Growing Up in the East

I grew up behind the Iron Curtain, but I had no concept of it until it fell. Some people call it East… of course, I was convinced it was the Centre of the World. And so it was, for most of us who remember going to school six days a week, in a highly competitive and strict educational system. We were the kids destined for greatness, to build the communist society and prove the world that western society is decaying.

Wearing the school uniform outfit, in the late ‘80s.

Yet something went terribly right!

… And here I am today. I’m leaning over my laptop in the meeting room overlooking Amsterdam’s iconic Rembrandtplein. The sophisticated video conference system helps us stay in touch with our colleagues around the globe. Everything surrounding me is state of the art technology, and I am a little wheel in this digital machine that makes the world go round. I am discussing with my Serbian and Belarusian colleagues ways to improve user experience for the online travel company we work for. I guess Tito, Gorbachev and Ceaușescu, whose portraits we had to stare at every day in our early childhood, must be livid. Sometimes, I feel the gaze!

Most people consider it to be an improbable landing place for a girl raised and educated in some provincial town in Eastern Europe, during the communist times. Such a gap, they think! For a woman, a job in a tech company is a mission almost impossible. I wonder if there are any girls from Eastern Europe looking for a job in Amsterdam, London or Berlin, who weren’t told they should settle for cleaning houses, waiting tables or other kind of services.

The view from my work place now, towards Kaizegracht canal in Amsterdam

However, my strict education and conditioning towards self-discipline served me well. I know that in my job I have to convince people over and over again I can do the work just as good as anybody else, or even better. It’s that feeling that you have to try harder than the rest, that you can’t take anything for granted. I’m not talking about discrimination, not at all. It’s something more subtle that this, harder to describe in words. I guess it’s more about having to prove people that prejudices about my background are wrong. It’s the reversed Pygmalion effect.

Hear I am now. Early morning on my way to work, crossing Prinsengracht canal on my bike.

And every time I meet a women hailing from Eastern Europe working in a start-up or a big company, I know what great walls she had to break and how hard she had to prove herself to get there. I am so proud of her achievements, as if they were my own. That’s why East End Girls is a platform for us to get together, share experiences and, hopefully, educate our adoptive Western societies about our values, our work ethics and our knowledge.