At age 6, my twin sister and I moved to the UK with my parents for my dad’s job. Being Dutch and at such a young age, I naturally couldn’t speak a word of English, but I was fluent within three months.
Saucer of milk
I have no memory of learning the language, except one word. In class I remember the teacher discussing a particular animal, whose name sounded very unfamiliar to my foreign ears. You were advised to put out a saucer of milk for it (in those days, at least), but it wasn’t a cat. It had small beady eyes and its name had something to do with a farm, but it wasn’t a pig. I still remember my lack of understanding until I was shown a picture – of course, it was a hedgehog! This is the only English word I consciously remember learning, all the rest came naturally.
Girls and ties
Life in rural Surrey was wonderful, to me at least. It is where my love of animals and nature originated. And my love of learning. We attended a renowned girls’ school where I learned all sorts of interesting and also practical things, such as how to tie a tie. The quality of education at this school was very high and the self-discipline the school instilled in me has helped me in later years as well.
Feeling low in the Low Lands
When we had lived in the UK for a number of years and we were settling comfortably into secondary school, my dad was relocated back to the Netherlands. The transition was very hard for me. I hardly spoke or understood Dutch and had to be put back a year at school. I found it difficult to adapt to Dutch culture and as a result I never truly felt at home. But now, after having spent countless years outside of the UK, I no longer feel British either. Because although my accent is English, I’m not a Brit.
Out of place
Despite, or perhaps because of my ties to both England and the Netherlands, I have always felt slightly out of place in the world, as if I were floating somewhere over the Channel – not English, not entirely Dutch. No matter where I live, this torn feeling of not belonging never quite goes away. It took me until 2013 to tackle this head on and to embrace that inner conflict when I became a translator. A decision I haven’t once regretted. My weakness has become my strength and now I daily flit across the Channel and back, between English and Dutch. Perhaps never feeling truly at home, but at least very happy.