Isanya Köhne

It’s safe to say a lot is happening in the world right now, with many people protesting for equal rights. It’s the second week of this pride month and an important goal each year is to highlight that everyone has the same rights, no matter your sexual orientation or identification. In honour of pride month, we try to shed a little light on the LGBTQ+ community by giving this platform to people that can represent it. How is the Netherlands in the eyes of international students in regards of this community? Let’s find out! 

This week we give the word to Mariana, who’s 23 years old, originally from Brazil, and bisexual. She came to the Netherlands in 2018 as part of an exchange program that was planned to last just six months. However, six months became a year, and then a year and half. She says she simply didn’t want to leave. In order to make that happen, she transferred to another studies, now doing a double bachelor in Fine Arts and Cultural Studies in Rotterdam. 


Mariana

1. In your own words, how would you describe the LGBTQ+ community (in general)? What makes you feel accepted in a country, in this regard? 

“Having studied in art academies both in the Netherlands as in Brazil, I have to say I found both quite accepting environments in regards to gender and especially sexuality. It is often quite easy to approach such topics and get in touch with others from the LGBTQ+ community. This community in my opinion is extremely open and diverse. Art academies are of course quite specific scenes in regards to this, and unfortunately they often do not represent the reality of the majority of the population. What really makes me feel accepted in a country however, as a woman especially, is to be in a place with lower levels of gender inequality. A country where I can feel comfortable to make my own choices, both in line with sexuality as well as in general”. 

2. Before coming to the Netherlands, did you worry that people would judge you in your Erasmus/new city regarding your sexual preference?

“Not really. I was definitely curious, however. I knew I would stay in a student accommodation together with other international students, which was really helpful – the idea of meeting people from so many places and culture already creates a more diverse environment. And besides, the Netherlands does have the image of being an open-minded country, so that plays a big role to not worry”. 

3. The Netherlands is known to be relatively open-minded, especially regarding this community, would you agree with this? Why or why not? 

“I do agree that the Netherlands is quite an open country. When I moved from Tilburg to Rotterdam, I did notice differences, such as the amount of LGBTQ+ couples you’d see walking on the streets and how openly people approached such topics in conversations. So I would say that bigger cities are definitely more accepting and diverse but in comparison to other countries, I think we have it quite good here”. 

4. What was/is your general experience like here in the Netherlands? And in regards to the LGBTQ+ community, is there anything that really stood or stands out?

“I remember the first time I experienced Pink Monday in Tilburg three years ago. I saw so many families dressed in pink, including children and elderly people, all supporting the event. It made me incredibly happy to see that. Shortly after that I worked for at the Milkshake festival in Amsterdam and saw some of the pride events in the city. It was amazing and something I’ve never experienced so openly in Brazil. I like that in the Netherlands such events and celebrations are much more present”. 

5. The aftermath: how do you look back at your time here in the Netherlands? Would you say you developed in any particular way because of the country? 

“Something that’s quite good is that I learned how to partake in open conversations about topics like these, to speak but also to listen to other opinions. I’m not as defensive anymore as I used to be and I feel much more secure in who I am and what I want. I feel like I can approach others about their preferences and I’m not afraid to ask them questions. Always respectfully of course, but in the end it’s a subject like any other”.

6. Which tips would you give to someone who’s contemplating doing their Erasmus/exchange/a full-time study in the Netherlands? Is there any advice they need to hear before coming here?

“The one thing that really mattered in the end and that made me feel good about all of this was being around supportive people, people you can talk to, and that perhaps become really great friends. That is the first thing I’d advice to do. From there on I urge you not to be shy. If you’re interested in someone, just approach them and ask them about their sexual preferences. And if you really want to be sure, there are some very nice LGBTQ+ bars, clubs and apps in the Netherlands where you can meet people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community”. 

7. Pride month this year will look a little different than it usually does, is there anything, in particular, you’d hope this month will bring to the people? And in what ways do you think the Netherlands can develop more in light of the LGBTQ+ community? 

“I believe this time is a very good time to do research. Look up the history of the LGBTQ+ community, the rights, and the memorable people that have fought and are fighting for equality and respect. Pride month is about pride and to celebrate it, so hopefully we get to do that all together soon again”. 

Thanks so much Mariana for sharing a little bit about what the Netherlands provides and the possibilities for other LGBTQ+ individuals to look into in case they’re considering coming to the Netherlands for their studies. Not just in times like these, but in general is it important to preach for equal rights no matter someone’s sexual preference or gender. For those of you who want to meet some new people despite these times, check out online groups or go ahead and download an app in which you get to meet plenty of other’s celebrating pride month!