Workers: Almost Dutch
Delta nr 27, September 2004
They're TU Delft's 'other' foreigners, the workers who clean, cook and do other menial jobs at the TU. This week the English Page meets cleaner Evelyn Costelo Ramirez, 41, from Manilla, The Philipines.
"I had a very good education back home," says Evelyn Costelo Ramirez in a half empty TU computer lab. Because her Dutch isnít that good, finding a job here in tourism or even an administrative job proved very difficult. About eighteen months ago Ramirez started working as a cleaner at the Mechanical Engineering & Marine Technology Faculty. Every weekday from 7 to 11 in the morning and then again from 3 to 5 in the afternoon, Ramirez ensures that the students and staff have a clean building. "I'm not looking for another job," she says. "This one pays my bills just fine."
In the Philippines, Ramirez worked in the reservations department of a luxury island resort, which mainly serviced expats. Ramirez: ďI only went to the resort when it was so busy they needed backup, otherwise I worked in the office."
Growing up in an open-minded family in the city, Ramirez was never a stranger to foreign people and other cultures. Her father was a sailor, whose work brought him to Holland, among other countries. Therefore, when one of Ramirez's sister married a Dutch guy, she at least knew where Holland was. And as it happens, it wasn't just the one sister who moved to the Netherlands. Ramirez has two sisters and three brothers living here now, plus many nephews and nieces. In fact, when she first came to Holland in 1992, it was to visit her family. She visited again in 1997 and met a man she fell in love with. After she returned to the Philippines, they had a long distance relationship, which was hard to handle, so in 1999 Ramirez arrived in Holland once again. This time she wanted to make a decision: either stay here or live in her home country.
It wasn't until 2000 that Ramirez finally decided she wanted to live in the land of cheese and tulips for good. Although the relationship didnít last, Ramirez is happy with her life in Holland and intends to stay here.
Getting a job in her new home country wasn't easy. Ramirez: "I briefly worked at Shell as a stand-by administrative assistant and had an on-and-off job in data-entry at TNO for about six months. I kept sending out my CV, but nothing came of it and eventually I lost hope." As she was on her own and needed a regular job, she became a cleaner in the spring of 2003. Ideally, she'd like to work someplace where she can use her people-skills, at a helpdesk, for instance. "I like talking to people,Ē she explains. "But rule number one is that you have to speak Dutch, and I only know the basics."
Still, her restricted knowledge of the language doesn't stop her from having many Dutch friends. Indeed, most of her social contacts are natives. "I prefer to go out with them, as I get to practice my Dutch." She loves riding her bicycle around the countryside and being outdoors. When the weather's good, she can usually be found at the beach, getting a tan: "I like coloring my skin." Ramirez tends to avoid places like Scheveningen, which are too crowded for her liking. Instead, she prefers going to the beach in Rockanje or Hellevoetsluis. "My family lives in Hoogvliet, and I'm normally only in Delft during the week."
Apart from family members, Ramirez doesn't know many Filipinos here. "A lot of foreigners stick together, but Iím not like that," she says. Whether this has to do with her homeland's culture, she can't really say. "It probably depends on my upbringing," she says. "Perhaps it's different for Filipinos who grew up in the countryside, as they're not so used to living with other nationalities."
Ramirez doesn't mind being surrounded by students while doing her job. She likes how it reminds her of her own years as a student. "I miss being a student," she says. "As a student you have a low sense of responsibility, there's not much to worry about; but as you get older, you become more and more responsible." She also likes the open-mindedness of the younger Dutch generations. "Older people are friendly too," she adds, "but theyíre usually a bit more reserved at first."