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Polyglot learning Dutch: the journey of Moncef Bejaoui

Leaving your home country at 21 years old, without ever having known anything else but the village you grew up in. Moving abroad and not knowing what the future will hold. That's the beginning of the story of Moncef Bejaoui; a man full of determination, who has been making his mark on the Netherlands since his arrival in the eighties. In this blog we are interviewing him about his journey as an immigrant who was eager to learn Dutch and was very determined to become successful.


A small background story

Moncef was born and raised in Tunisia in a small village called Mateur. He grew up in a family with 7 siblings. Their parents tried hard to make ends meet, but according to Moncef this never made them any less happy. He describes his parents as hard working and loving people who tried their best to provide for their family. Upon completing high school, he relocated to Paris to study informatics. It was there that he met his Dutch wife Karin, and the couple later welcomed three children into their family. After spending three years in France, Moncef and Karin made the move to the Netherlands. Within three months of arriving, Moncef had learned to speak Dutch fluently, and soon after, he began working as a project manager at the Gemeente Utrecht, where he spent the next 30 years of his life. During this time, Moncef honed his skills and built a strong reputation as a dedicated professional.





However, Moncef's true passion lay in creating something of his own, and so, he decided to pursue his dream of starting his own business. Moncef's company, M&P Greenery (which he shares with his companion Pieter), imports pistachio branches from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia to the Netherlands, providing our country with the beautiful green branches used in our bouquets.




Moncef faced various challenges during his journey, but he continued to push forward and eventually succeeded in assimilating into a foreign culture. What is perhaps most inspiring about Moncef's journey is his unwavering love for his heritage and his commitment to giving back to his community. He has committed himself to volunteer work for several years, with a specific focus on donating wheelchairs to physically impaired people in Tunisia. He initiated the project on his own, taking the lead in coordinating and transporting the wheelchairs to less fortunate people in Tunisia.


Despite having lived in Holland for over 40 years, Moncef has never lost touch with his roots in Tunisia. He is fluent in four languages (Dutch, English, French and Arabic) and is therefore a huge inspiration for us at iMasterArabic. As someone who has lived both in the Arab and the Dutch world, we interviewed him to learn more about his experiences.


How did you learn to speak Dutch?


'' I took Dutch lessons for 6 months, but above that, I taught myself. It was pretty easy because it wasn't just about learning, but also about deepening my understanding of a language and being able to communicate well with people. I am very sociable and enjoy connecting with people. I insisted on speaking every day with my coworkers, joining in on coffee breaks, and trying to understand their jokes. I understood the words, but I didn't get the jokes. For the record, I still don't and that has nothing to do with understanding Dutch (starts laughing). To teach myself, I read comic books and paid attention to everything I heard around me, and that's how I built up my vocabulary. I practiced speaking Dutch with my wife and mother-in-law and learned the language and ways of speaking. They were hard on me, cause they would insist on speaking Dutch only, also when I didn't understand them. There was no other way, I could not escape the Dutch language. This was a good thing, cause it definitely made me progress fast. It's ok to make mistakes while learning. I've made tons of them along the way. But here I am, I speak Dutch fluently. Don't judge yourself, or feel embarrassed for making mistakes, it's part of the process. I focussed on one step at a time, rather than expecting myself to speak a whole language within 3 months. Give yourself time to learn, but also be consistent with the effort you make. Don't take breaks from learning a language. I immersed myself in it and I believe that's what helped me succeed. ''



How did you master the Dutch pronunciation? Cause you don't have an accent at all


'' By having a lot of contact with people and talking to them, I learned different pronunciations and ways of speaking. You have to speak out loud and hear the difference. And don't be afraid to try. It doesn't have to sound perfect. You'll improve eventually while speaking. Within a few months, I started working at the Gemeente Utrecht and there was no other way than to communicate in Dutch. So I had the opportunity and privilege to listen and talk to many people. I noticed that people have different dialects and ways of speaking, and I tried to understand them. That was really hard though, as I was mostly used to the way my wife and in-laws spoke. There were times when I felt like giving up, but eventually, I got around. I think the best way to learn a language is to read a lot and make contact with people who speak the language. But above all, it all starts with the intention. I really wanted to learn and speak Dutch. As with all things in life, it’s about your intention and motivation. If you want it bad enough, you’ll make it happen. ''



What do you consider the biggest differences between the Dutch and Tunisian cultures?


'' In the beginning, I really had to get used to the fact that life in the Netherlands is lived inside. It was so quiet here. In Tunisia and the Mediterranean countries, life is more outside. We like to sit outside, enjoy the sun, make music and talk to our neighbors. We basically know everyone in our area and therefore know about each other’s situations. If someone needs help, it's very common to reach out and see what we can do. This also means we are always in each other's business (starts laughing). Growing up, we didn't have much ourselves, but my mother always send me to our neighbors with a plate of food. We love to share and connect with each other and I found that to be different in the Netherlands. Here it takes more time for people to open up. It happens eventually, but it takes more time and trust. Must be the weather... ''

What is your favorite thing about the Netherlands?


'' Borrelnootjes. Absolutely love them. ''





What is your favorite Tunisian dish?


'' It’s called marka jelbena- a dish based on tomatoes with meat and vegetables, among which peas (jelbenna). This dish is served with bread. ''




Who is your favorite Arabic writer?


'' Najib Mahfoudh. He was a nobel prize winner of literature and wrote about the Egyptian society, the complexity of human relationships, and the meaning of life. I love his philosophical point of view. ''




What motivated you to start your company M&P Greenery?


'' First of all, I always love to stay close to my Tunisian heritage. Running M&P Greenery allows me to travel back and forth to North Africa. It gives me the opportunity to connect with the culture, admire North Africa’s beautiful nature and provide work for the people there. Some of them live in very poor circumstances. This job allows me to make their lives a bit better and provide them with an income. I mainly do this for my children and grandchildren. I want to leave them something good, and I hope they will see North Africa through my eyes. I hope it will give them a way to stay in touch with their roots. In the end, I wanted to create something good in this world, which I can share with other people. A part of the profit goes to poor families that I know personally in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. People who have no money for their medication, a place to live, or to feed their children. So many people still live in poor circumstances. Having seen my own parents struggle, I want to return something good to my country. The look on their faces is priceless. In the end, I feel like if you have the opportunity to help other people then don’t hesitate and do it. It’s what I live for. ''





Shokran Moncef for taking the time to speak with us today. It was a pleasure to learn more about your experiences and insights!


Do you know someone who has an inspiring story that we have to interview next?

Drop me a line at ines@imasterarabic.com


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