Festive presentation of new urban book

What happens if you meet a Chilean journalist? A particularly active type, who is only here temporarily but would like to add some value to the place where you met? And what if you also happen to have a German colleague and know a British book designer? Well, you write a book together! Or at least, that is what we did.

We met Magdalena Palma (our Chilean journalist) in the summer of 2022 at the 25-year-anniversary party of Blaauwberg. At this event, we held a masterclass in English, to make sure that it was also accessible to the many non-Dutch(-speaking) citizens of Leiden. As a result of this first acquaintance, we decided to offer Magdalena a temporary contract to join us at our office and write a book about “our internationals” and their lives in the city. By doing a lot of interviews, she constructed ten stories of people who were not born in The Netherlands, but for various reasons and in many different ways, made Leiden their home. Those stories are bundled in the book ‘Green Glasses – adding perspectives to the Leiden experience’. The book is published by Blaauwberg and was designed by Euan Monoghan. 

On the evening of June 12th, we gathered with a diverse group of guests at book store De Kler for the long-awaited launch of ‘Green Glasses’.

The evening started with an interview with Magdalena, who was fortunately able to join us online from Santiago de Chile. She explained how she and Blaauwberg met, how she experienced writing the book, and how living in Leiden changed her perspective on the world. From the audience the question arose: what does the title mean? Magdalena explained: “when I was an exchange student in Australia, they taught us an analogy to show what it would be like to live in a different country. It goes that everyone wears sunglasses of a certain colour, which represents your background, culture and beliefs. When you arrive in a new country, you will learn to see things through the lenses of that country. Let’s say your own glasses are yellow, and the new country’s glasses are blue, then you end up mixing perspectives, and seeing things through green glasses.”

After the interview, all attendants were given a copy of the book to quickly browse through. When everyone had had the chance to take a look at the beautifully designed pages, the first official copies were presented to three women with special positions in the Leiden society. We had secretly already provided them with a copy before, so they could share their comments on the book with us.

Leiden needs its internationals

The first recipient, Elianne Wijnands, member of the Leiden city council for ‘Studenten voor Leiden’, recognised her own experience in the sunglasses analogy. Even though she is Dutch, she moved to Leiden from a different city.My glasses are maybe the same colour, but kind of a different shade. (…) When I got here as a student, I also had different sunglasses than I do now as a politician. You really look at the city from a different angle and a different perspective”, she shared. She noted that a few stories in particular appealed to her. For example, the one about the refugee who started a hair salon and offered discounts to people who came to speak Dutch with him. Elianne joked: “I think he very early understood a very important and fundamental thing about Dutch culture: we love discounts!”. There was also a more serious point in her review. Internationals are definitely not always seen in a positive light, also not within the student community. We are not yet as welcoming a city as we could be. She concluded: “Leiden is a gem, as Magdalena said, even a paradise, but I do think it’s still far from perfect. Leiden needs its internationals and I think this book wonderfully tells us why.”

What is home?

The second review came from Kristel Rust, from the Hogeschool Leiden. Reading the book inspired her to think about her own moving around the globe and the question: what do you say when people ask you “where are you from?” She herself had lived in Swaziland, Nijmegen, Maastricht, South Africa and Amsterdam before she moved to the Leiden region. Green Glasses taught her new things about Leiden and helped her explore the city. More and more Leiden is starting to feel like home for her and her family. So what is home? According to Kristel “feeling at home has to do with feeling familiar and safe. It isn’t connected to one place and it has nothing to do with the number of miles you move, but it refers to a number of places, groups, people or situations with which I feel connected”.

‘Springplankplekken’

Marlies Tiepel from welfare organisation BuZz Leiden shared how it reminded her of her own work. The large majority of the people that she works for were not born and raised in The Netherlands. Unlike most people in the book, however, they did not come here voluntarily, and have a hard time adapting to the Dutch society. BuZz teaches these people skills that you need to integrate. She shared three components of integration that she saw back in the book: you have to master the Dutch language, it is important to meet and know other people and you need to have some kind of paid or unpaid work. 

“And I see the language, the meeting people, and the work as a kind of springboard to further progress. Once you have mastered those, things will go a lot better for you. I’m really a fan of places that have such a springboard function in them. I call those ‘springplankplekken’ (springboard spots)… And I think there should be a lot more of those in the city.” Marlies ended her review by turning to Magdalena on the screen to say “I think it’s a great little book. It’s a small book but I think it really has a very big story. I really got a lot out of it, thank you very much.”

Read the full reviews here

After the official presentation part, attendants could share their thoughts and experiences with each other while enjoying a drink. We look back at a fun and inspiring evening and would like to thank everyone who came and contributed to its success.

Did ‘Green Glasses’ catch your interest? You can buy the book for €8.45 at Boekhandel De Kler.

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