Officially a Limburger
December 20, 2010 Leave a Comment
Having both participated in the video portrait campaign of the Maastricht Region Branding Foundation aiming at showing the lives of newcomers in the area, my American/Dutch friend Michelle and I were invited to attend a festive gathering last Monday at the AINSI hall together with the 70 people who have been featured in the project so far.
On our way there, we talked about the set of sharp and even challenging questions we had been asked to answer in preparation for the filming and agreed that they had made us reflect on the nature of our relationship with the region and our attachment to it.
One question for example dealt with what we still missed and I had replied that I would like the region “to be bolder and better expose and exploit all its richness.” I had written that I wished for more integration between Limburgers and non-Limburgers, through clubs, open days, cultural events for larger audiences and explained that my life here only started to get fuller and more rewarding when I started having Dutch (Limburg) friends, through work, my kids’ school or social activities.
I was looking forward to the Portrait Day at AINSI because I have seen all the video clips that have been produced so far and was curious to meet the portrayed people in flesh and blood. The films had made me realise once again that adjusting to life in a new environment is not something exclusively reserved to newcomers from abroad. Dutch people from other parts of the Netherlands also have many anecdotes and insights about their experience in settling down in the Maastricht Region.
As I saw it, we all shared many common points: we had made ourselves a home here, we found our new life gratifying enough not to wish to live anywhere else for the time being, and we willingly accepted to be seen and to act as ambassadors for the region.
What struck me during the informal exchanges around the various tables was the recurrent reference in highly positive terms to the unique cross-border location of the region, so near to Liège in French speaking Wallonia to the south, Hasselt in Belgian Limburg to the west and the German city of Aachen to the east.
For me this is clearly the region’s biggest charm and asset and one the main reasons that keep me here, because it fulfills my need for cultural variety. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there seemed to be a general consensus on this point in the room and also on the fact that cross-border connections and exchanges could and should be further facilitated, exploited and developed.
Wim Ortjens, the director of the Maastricht Region Branding Foundation, praised the video portrait campaign as it had proved a very, if not the most, successful element of his organisation’s strategy to promote the region.
He explained that by being “relevant, authentic and unique” each portrait had met the key requirements of any well conceived marketing project. As a token of recognition and gratitude for the role of ambassadors for Limburg we had played in the campaign, he and his team presented us with new business cards bearing a special and meaningful title: “Limburger”.
The wish I had expressed last year for more events bringing Limburgers and non-Limburgers together came true just a few days after the Portrait Day at an event called Magic Mingle jointly organised on Thursday by the International Service Desk of the Maastricht Region, Brainport Development Southeast Netherlands, and the Maastricht University Knowledge Centre for International Staff.
The aim of the evening was to bring together like minded people in an informal setting, and to create a Magic Mingle between international staff and Dutch citizens living and working in the Maastricht Region.
Mr Onno Hoes, the new Mayor of Maastricht, welcomed the large crowd – I was told that more than 400 of us registered for the event – that had flocked at the Vrijthof Theatre and praised the existing local initiatives – such as the International Women’s Club and Crossroads - that contributed to making the international community feel at home in the Maastricht Region. He said that our presence – foreign students, international knowledge workers or professionals – could not be valued enough and brought great benefits to the city of Maastricht and its surrounding area. The audience laughed and gave a round of applause when he wittily concluded: “Rotterdam has a seaport, Amsterdam has an airport, but we, in the Southeast Netherlands, have a brainport!”
The event was well organised and appreciated by all. I recognised many familiar faces, among whom several of my foreign colleagues from the European Journalism Centre, Crossroads writers, friends from the International Women’s Club…
I had the privilege to be introduced to Mr Hoes and was invited to share a drink and a bite together with him and a few representatives of the university’s Knowledge Centre for International Staff and Brainport Development. Mr Hoes made us nod in understanding when he candidly said that he could relate to our situation because he too was a newcomer in Maastricht.
It was snowing outside when I left the Theatre but I didn’t feel the cold. Maastricht looked Magic in the snow and I was smiling because I had just received the perfect match to my earlier gift: a new business card holder…
By Sueli Brodin
Source: Maastricht Region website