Border(less) Life on Dutch-German Borders
IVY – Interreg Volunteer Youth volunteering at Euregio Gronau
To start with my first IVY post, I would like to introduce myself and to share a story of how I got engaged in this volunteering program in EUREGIO in Gronau.
My name is Monika and I was born in Czechoslovakia (the country that does not exist anymore on a map of Europe, but still does in many hearts, including mine). Just to make sure, as many people still do not know, or are not quite sure about it, Slovakia and Czech republic are recently two separated countries officially splitting in 1993, thus now I have to say that I come from Slovakia.
Talking about the borders, which is also one of the main topic of this volunteering initiative, I must say that since I am a child of democracy, borders do not play the same role to me as for instance to my parents. Before I was born, before 1989, to cross a border was considered to be a criminal act, thus living an easy border(less) life used to be only a dream for an ordinary people. Yet, it was a reality, and yet it is important to get some background. Only then we are able to appreciate freedom we have in today’s Europe.
In today’s Europe, the Europe which I was born in, it is quite normal to move around and to live in one country and work in another, freely crossing borders every day without even noticing. Lucky enough, I grow up into the border-opening period and lucky enough, I am allowed to come to Germany every day from my recent home in Enschede, in the Netherlands, park my car on the Dutch side of the border (just because there are more parking places), and then I walk for about two minutes to cross a border to be at work in Germany, in Gronau at EUREGIO. Exciting, isn’t it? My family and friends find it simply fascinating.
Open borders allowed me to participate in many international projects, for instance Erasmus+, European Voluntary Service, CEEPUS exchange, and experience things I could have never experienced if I stayed behind the borders or if the borders would have never opened for me. That is something that should not be taken for granted, on a contrary, it should be reminded and appreciated.
As I have always enjoyed the excitement of unknown, being curios of what it is like to be behind the geographical borders, I have decided to continue on my border(less) life and took a part in an IVY – Interreg Volunteer Youth, project located in the cross-border region on German-Dutch borders in Gronau. From the very beginning IVY seemed to me as a perfect match.
IVY is a new initiative launched in 2016 as a part of the broader program European Solidarity Corps. The main aim of IVY is to offer possibilities for young Europeans to participate in cross-border projects and to promote cooperation across European borders.
In my case, it is the border region between The Netherlands and Germany. What makes it more special is that this particular cross-border region called EUREGIO is the oldest one in Europe. EUREGIO was established in 1958 as a first cross-border institution of its kind. The idea of a cross-border cooperation between bordering countries has been formed right in here, on this place and served further as an inspiration for other border regions throughout the Europe, to exchange each other’s ideas.
That makes EUREGIO undoubtedly a unique institution, and I am happy to be part of it thanks to the IVY initiative and EUREGIO’s warm welcome.
I can remember when I was working on my Bachelor thesis a few years ago, whose topic was also a cross-border cooperation, I wrote one section about EUREGIO in Gronau. And now, some years later, the invisible forces of the universe brought me here and somehow, without planning it particularly, I ended up living in the oldest cross-border region and what’s more – I am enjoying it here. So I can only say –Thank you universe!
Even though the borders are open, and the fluctuation of people of different nationalities through the Europe is tremendous, here in this border region, I still get surprising looks on people’s faces when I say that I live in the Netherlands, work in Germany and I come from Slovakia.
To me it all sounds normal, but it does not yet considered to be so normal in this region, especially for the older generations.
Talking about that, funny thing happened on my first day at work at EUREGIO. Grabbing a coffee from the coffee machine, suddenly I heard someone standing behind me, greeting me in Czech! I was wondering how this is possible, since I was pretty sure there are no Slovaks or Czechs working here. It turned out that my new colleague’s wife comes from Czech republic, thus he managed to learn something from her. After living abroad for quite some time, not having many opportunities to hear your mother language, I must say that it is really nice and heart-warming to hear it every now and then, even if it’s only a few words. But, wait a minute, Czech is actually not my mother tongue, ehmm…. So, how is it now? Well, since I have basically grown up in a so called fresh ‘’Ex-Czechoslovakia’’, where I have been exposed to the Czech language as much as to a Slovak all around (in books, TV programs, study materials, from families and friends from the Czech republic) it makes almost no difference to me, yet there are several differences.
I have always thought that people living here in this border region feel the same way or at least similar about the German and the Dutch language. In my opinion, German is just as similar to Dutch as Slovak is to Czech. At least, that is my impression, however some people find it rather difficult to speak one another’s language.
Recently, I am attending Dutch classes in Germany, and I can see that it is not only me having troubles with Dutch, but also Germans whose language is very similar. Anyway, I am having a lot of fun in class I also learn a lot. Given that I have been living in the Netherlands for about a year, I can already understand Dutch quite good, and I might also sound understandable when I speak it (at least that is what I have been told). Working at EUREGIO is a perfect opportunity to be in contacts with Dutch speakers.
However, mostly I communicate in German language, since my communication skills appear to be better in German, due to my previous work experience in Germany.
Moreover, thanks to the language flexibility (Dutch-German) of the co-workers at EUREGIO, and the knowledge of English, there is always a way to understand each other.
Just like I cannot physically see a geographical border while commuting every day from the Dutch part to the German one, I also do not see and feel a language border at EUREGIO.
I am pleased to be welcomed here and happy to share my further experience on cross-border cooperation and INTERREG projects at EUREGIO!
Already looking forward to sharing my next IVY / EUREGIO post with you!