You may know her already, perhaps by her Twitter handle @Nicolette_O, but I would like to take a moment to formally introduce the founder of #CultureTrav and my amazing co-host Nicolette Orlemans. Born to a Dutch father and Polish mother, she was raised in a bilingual household. Originally from the province of Brabant in the Netherlands, Nicolette and her family moved to the United States when she was 12 years old, per the request of her father’s company.
Nicolette adjusted quite well to the American lifestyle and ultimately graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, as well as Organizational and Political Communication from Emerson College in Boston. Now, she is currently residing in New York City, working as a communications strategist. Her expertise includes digital marketing, media relations and social media, among other specialties.
In her free time, one of her passions is traveling, having visited various countries in Europe, numerous states in the U.S., the Caribbean and Egypt to date. Exploring the world and experiencing new cultures is something that holds a special place in her heart, coming from a multicultural background. In November 2014, she started #CultureTrav, a Twitter chat that focuses on how travelers personally experience travel, especially in relation to how they adapt to cultural differences, bridge language gaps, create a home away from home and more. Recently, I got to know Nicolette a little bit better. Read her responses in the interview below.
How do you feel being raised in a multicultural, multilingual household has helped shape you into the person you are today?
Nicolette: When I was little, my mom emphasized two lessons that will stick with me for life: be open-minded and curious about the world. How my parents raised me is truly a reflection of the global citizens they are. Growing up in The Netherlands, we were used to a culturally-diverse setting. I felt that The Netherlands embraced people from all over the world, so it was only natural for us as a family, to perpetuate that. Growing up in a bilingual household exposed me to wonderful Polish traditions, in addition to celebrating and living Dutch culture.
Whenever I meet new people, I’m curious about their life stories, their experiences, and their values and beliefs. In turn, they enjoy hearing about the traditions I’ve celebrated, and love to find out about life in The Netherlands and Poland.
While you were living in the Netherlands, what impression did you have of the United States and how did that image change when you moved?
Nicolette: The impression you get of the United States is often tainted by what you see on the news, or watch in the movies. I pictured the USA as being this vast, open, and welcoming environment, and it wasn’t far from wrong on that. We moved to the U.S. when I was in middle school, and adjusting was relatively easy because we already had a good grasp on English. A lot of expats were living in the area, and a few of my classmates were fellow Europeans (including a Dutch girl), so it wasn’t difficult to connect.
Before moving, I remember having funny conversations with fellow foreigners who expected I would see lots of cowboys and eat mostly hamburgers while in the USA. And, while the latter is a typically American food staple, it’s certainly not what defines American culture for me. I’ve lived in a few different U.S. cities, and can tell you that there are differences per state, too. In Boston, people are often very in touch in with their Irish roots and enjoy the local sports frenzy. In NYC, you get a melting pot and are in a vibrant, never-boring environment where you’ll meet career-driven professionals. And, elsewhere, you’ll find that states leave their own, unique imprints. I think of America as this “multicultural melting pot” of many immigrants aspiring to live the American Dream – attaining success through hard work and opportunity.
In my time here, I’ve met a lot of interesting, kind people from across the country, who embody different aspects of the culture (and like, with any country, are not all and the same).
How have you incorporated and maintained your Dutch and Polish heritage into your life in the United States?
Nicolette: I’m very proud of my Dutch and Polish heritage. It’s one of the first things I discuss with people when we first meet. It’s a big part of my identity, even after living in the USA for almost fifteen years. I continue to speak both languages with my parents, extended family and friends.
Cooking is another way to stay connected with my heritage – whether it’s preparing pierogies for Christmas Eve in Polish tradition, or enjoying a Dutch biscuit with hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) for breakfast. I root for Dutch national teams, and you’ll find me wearing orange to celebrate during the World Cup (even if we don’t make the final…). Beyond that, I love looking at old photos to reminisce, or watch movies in either language.
How do you attempt to learn about a new culture, either during your travels or while residing in a particular country?
Nicolette: By living in a new country (for me, this was the United States in 2000), you are immersing yourself in a new culture beginning the day you land. You can read about a country, and research it ahead of time (I like to to have a better understanding of the local culture), but there will undoubtedly be elements that surprise you.
What you hear from others could be biased – though I love connecting with fellow travelers and bloggers to hear about their perceptions. I always find it fascinating to hear people’s perspectives because they can be so different (or quite similar) to mine, and they might pick up details that I did not.
You asked this question to eight different travel bloggers, but let me return the question to you: When it comes to travel, what’s something you wish you’d done sooner?
Nicolette: I wouldn’t wait or second guess my choices to travel. Even with limited time, you can enjoy weekend getaway, or take a day trip. Don’t adopt the “it can wait until later” mentality, because then you might not leave at all. Instead, enjoy every journey (no matter how long it will be) for what it is – an opportunity to explore new grounds.