1. First, tell us a little about yourself. Who is Simona Florina Popa?

I was born in 1980 in a small town in Muntenia, my second child. My name should have been Florentina, but when filling in the certificate, the clerk didn't have enough room and so Florina remained. At 11 months old, the story goes, I travelled by train for more than four hours to the south of Moldavia, in my grandmother's arms. Until I was 21 it was a back and forth between the two lands, I learned to speak in Moldova and read in Muntenia, then books accompanied me wherever I went. They were comfort, constancy, adventure, play.
One of the differences between the two places - and there were many - was the language. I remember that every time school started, there was a relatively short period of time when I lost my Moldovan accent. Instead, when I got upset, wherever I was, I would deliberately pick it up; I think it seemed to somehow soften the expression of a strong negative emotion (the concept is related to the times). This was the first time I had inadvertently superimposed a certain grammar on an emotion.

In primary school, I decided I wanted to become a lawyer. I'd probably seen a movie where a lawyer won a big lawsuit, even though it didn't look like he had much of a chance. I know this fascinated me for many reasons, but I now realize that the most important thing for me was that someone was using the word to act: to assert themselves, to stand up for something or someone, to take a stand on something, to defend, to persuade, to change minds, perspectives, to present ideas. How cool is that! I thought to myself. After 21 years, I was more connected to Dobrogea. I went to law school here and worked for more than 15 years as a legal advisor.

In the meantime, Matthew was born and I moved, again, to the city where I prepared for all the changes. One afternoon I was reading this children's book; I remember coming from somewhere, I was alone in the car I had just parked; it was hot, noisy and I couldn't wait to get in or maybe I was still dragging my feet to be with myself when I started reading it. When I finished, I stared at the last illustration and I swear I could feel the sea breeze and the taste of the cake in my mouth and hear the rustle of the waves, even though I was hundreds of miles from the sea and no cake nearby.

In the period that followed, there were about 2-3 more experiences where I connected very strongly with children's stories, and not always in a positive way, at least not at first reading. And that's when the idea emerged that reading newer or older children's books, together with Matthew or separately, would provide a better bridge of communication between us: him knowing how it was, me trying to understand how his world is now.
And because it seemed to me that the meanings of a reading are amplified when you write about it, the idea of the blog came up Books for Matthew, which we created in the winter of 2018. Then we moved to the Netherlands where we founded Library Books for Matthew. And now it's been 2 years and 4 months since I've been a librarian, content creator and editor.

Simona Popa Interviu

2. What brought you to tulip country?

Partner. Haha! The truth is, although as a student I dreamed of going on a trip around the world, I never lifted a finger to do anything concrete in that direction. So when the idea came up, I was surprised. I hadn't thought about it for a long time. He was very enthusiastic and confident, at least that's what he showed me, so I didn't want to be any less. I wanted to be as brave... A job search followed and he found it in Holland.

3. How did you get the idea to set up a Romanian children's library in the Netherlands? How was this initiative received by the Romanian community?

Library Books for Matthew came about because, at some point, I very much wanted my passion for children's books to be more than just an "individualistic extravagance", I wanted it to be something that could benefit anyone who might be interested.
For me, children's books and the library were and are the most important. In addition, I wanted a place where creativity and initiative could flourish.

Like I said, the Books for Matthew website - where I post reviews or, rather, essays about children's books - has been around since 2018. I created the site out of a personal need and to satisfy a personal need, and the name reflects that: Books (as an object of study and a means of understanding) for (whatever endeavor I did would ultimately benefit) Matthew (my child's name).
When I set up the library, and the website became an adjunct to it, I wondered if I should change the name to reflect the general interest I wanted to serve. Then I realised that, in essence, I am still trying to achieve the same thing, just for more people. To contribute to safe, honest and deep communication between a parent and their child, between a reader and the book in their hands. And in the end it seemed natural to me to keep the same name.

When I set up the library, I didn't rely on any market research, statistics or anything like that. I saw this library as an investment, something that would, by its mere presence and manifestation, bring about changes or accelerate changes already underway. And I think, from that point of view, it fulfils its purpose very well. Interest in celebrating multilingualism is growing in the Romanian community, perhaps a little thanks to us. In addition, I think we inspire and motivate others.

Simona Popa Interviu 02

4. You are a content creator, editor and librarian. Can you tell us a bit about your work here?

    On the website cartipentrumatei.ro I write reviews, essays, informative articles about events, take interviews.
    I also edit articles submitted by contributors here. I must admit that I like to see how a comma here and there, or a reversal of words, etc. can change the topicality or musicality of the text.
    As a librarian, I try to tell (in writing or orally) nice stories about books so that as many readers as possible feel attracted; I organize activities, meetings; I talk, sometimes maybe too much, about children's books, about reading together, about how all children are, without exception, readers and how we can find out what kind of readers they are; I make book recommendations, I do this service of delivering books to the subscriber's home, service, etc.; I strive to make the members of the Romanian community, the larger community we are part of, aware of the fact that we are readers. And this takes up all my time. Haha...

    5. Have you had to change careers in all these years of living in the Netherlands? Was it difficult? Did you have difficulties with the language?

    In Romania I worked as a legal advisor and in the Netherlands I am a librarian, editor and content creator. I guess that means I've been retraining professionally, but it was what I wanted. What if it was hard for me to reprofile? Not really.

    Language, yeah. The first time a mommy approached me to ask if the kids could play together, I was still waiting for Matthew. When he finally came (he had a habit of looking for birds when I desperately waved at him), I said full of excitement "Finsănt wants to play with you". He looked at me with his big green eyes and asked "Who's Finsănt?". I still hadn't realised that people around us didn't understand what we were talking about so I did the natural thing: I blushed, elbowed him in the ribs and whispered "Finsănt" once more and pointed with my chin at the child sitting next to us. "Ah, Vincent!" "That's what I said." "No, you said Finsănt." All the way home, for about 15 minutes I repeated the name of my colleague and the little teacher still wasn't satisfied. In the evening his father comes home and we tell him the story. "Vincent," he says without anyone asking him. "Yes!" Matthew says approvingly.

    Then I noticed that what I could understand in writing I could not distinguish between the nations when they spoke, even if they spoke slowly. On top of that I had a first teacher who told me I was a control freak for asking so many grammar questions, then the next teacher lost me a bit with lessons on how to ask for potatoes at the market. But this year I've made it my goal to try to learn on my own, with topics I'm passionate about and using a lot of audio recordings. Speaking and understanding the Dutch language is a skill that I am looking forward to.

    6. How is the community you live in, did you feel welcome in the West? 

    To be honest, I stopped expecting to be welcomed in a place long before I came here. Besides, I don't know if my experience is relevant as I work from home, mostly alone.
    I can say, however, that the little more than four years that I have been here have been long enough for me to have already lost someone I remember fondly and who has left me the joy of looking at her garden, which she tended for many years - whenever I pass by - and her friend, with whom I occasionally exchange a word.

    7. If you were to draw a parallel between Romania and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, what differences do you see in economic, social and cultural terms?

    Hm, that question takes me back a few years. I was at lunch with colleagues and bosses at work. And the discussion about the productivity of colleagues in this city versus colleagues in that city came up again. All I remember doing was saying that the circumstances were different and the motivations the same. It was enough to stir up the endless rancour of the one who had opened the subject. I lost the friendship of someone I admired, though probably undeservedly.

    So now I'll say that I don't have a broad enough view to make a comparison, nor do I think it's useful. I would rather answer the question "If you were to draw a parallel between you in Romania and you in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, what differences do you see economically, socially and culturally?"

    I would answer something like: I have a small garden that relaxes me, I occasionally visit mommies who are not at their best, as I promised myself I would do when I was a single mommy and probably in the midst of a depression, and I learned that a hello is when you talk, look into the man's eyes and smile until he responds and walks away - I'm still practicing it. Oh, and to leave a Christmas and New Year's card in the neighbour's boxes, and write "from number ..." on the envelope.

    8. One last question, given that you have been living in the West for some time: do you have any advice for Romanians thinking of emigrating?

    Hm, if you've read this far, you'll be rewarded because my advice is short: travel, don't emigrate!

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    Interview by Magda Mincu.

    Magda has been living in the Netherlands since 2012 with her family. She is a translator by profession (predominantly from Dutch into Romanian) and has been part of the marketing team of the Rompro Foundation since early 2022. She chose to become a volunteer in the Foundation primarily out of a desire to socialize with other Romanians living in the Netherlands, but also to help with information and translations.

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