"This was my Lifeline to Family and Friends as an International Student in the Netherlands"


How a Little Green Book Helped Wittenborg CEO Maggie Feng when She First Arrived in the Netherlands

Maggie FengWhat is your most prized possession? For Wittenborg CEO Maggie Feng, it is a small, green address book that is already more than 30 years old,  given to her as a child in Beijing. She explained the value of the book in a recent column published in the corporate relations magazine of Achmea, the largest insurance company in the Netherlands with an annual turnover of €23 billion.

For Feng, the book represents a lifeline to China, family and friends, at a time when she needed it the most, as a newcomer to the Netherlands with all the strange awkwardness that implies – a feeling many international students will recognise.

"I got the book from my father when I was about 12 years old. It is full of telephone numbers, addresses and even pager numbers of family and friends, because that was still what one used back then. The little book was my safe haven when I had just started as an exchange student in Deventer. You have to understand – I did not know anyone, could not speak the language and found myself in a country which was entirely different from my own.

"The book was my gateway to keeping in touch with the people back home, although making a call those days cost 5 guilders per minute and a letter took 15 days to arrive. I got the book in 1988 from my father. There are more than 200 names in it and almost all the pages are filled with different colour pen strokes, handwriting and some of the names have been Tippexed out. Yes, not everyone had the honour of being in my book!

"Meanwhile, some of the numbers and addresses are no longer correct. These days I mainly keep in touch via WeChat – the Chinese version of Facebook and WhatsApp. It is quick and free. Still, I will never get rid of the book. It symbolises connection - not via digital, invisible means - but something that you can actually hold and feel."

WUP 26/11/2020

by James Wittenborg

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