Luxembourg's real multinationals

When third culture kids grow up

Matilde Fernandes (l.) and Valeria Cazzetta
Matilde Fernandes (l.) and Valeria Cazzetta
Photo: Marc Wilwert

“My friends at university just didn't understand,” said Valeria Cazzetta, speaking to, “that I am Italian, but born in Luxembourg and studying in France.”

What raises eyebrows elsewhere in the world is commonplace in Luxembourg, especially for students at the country's international schools, such as the European School. Ten years after graduating from the Kirchberg institution, a number of its alumni have made their way back to the Grand Duchy.

But what draws these third culture kids back to Luxembourg?

For Matilde Fernandes, who studied in the Portuguese section, and Valeria the answer is a simple one – Luxembourg is home. Both born here, they know the country of their parents as a holiday destination where you go to visit family.

It's a complicated relationship. “My roots are in Luxembourg,” said Matilde, but at the same time, she does not feel 100 percent like a Luxembourger. “Already at school, it was an 'us' and 'them' situation,” she reflected. “It was a bubble.” Breaking out of that bubble is difficult, even as an adult, Matilde and Valeria have found. Not having learnt Luxembourgish at school, the young women said it was challenging to make a start and build relationships with the locals.

Although they have called Luxembourg “home” all their lives, there are times when they are still made to feel like foreigners, they said, for example when job searching without a Luxembourg passport or during legislative elections, which neither can take part in. And while they have started the procedure to get dual citizenship, Matilde and Valeria seem unsure whether this piece of paper will make them feel any more “Lëtzebuergesch” than they do now.

Alexander von Debschitz
Alexander von Debschitz
Photo: Tania Bettega

Stability and security

For Alexander von Debschitz, a former German section student, there is a flaw in the system. “It assumes that people stay for a few years and then leave, but many don't,” he said. Challenges for integration include not only the language, but also school schedules that don't match the Luxembourg system for after-school activities.

Coupled with a certain reticence on the side of the locals to take the initiative to get to know their international neighbours, “there is hardly any point of contact,” said Alexander, a third-generation Luxembourg resident. His grand-parents, originally from Belgium and Germany, first moved to the Grand Duchy, which his parents also call home. When he turned 18, he applied for Luxembourg citizenship, although at the time it meant giving up his Belgian passport.

Nonetheless, he hesitated longer to return to his Luxembourg life after finishing school in 2004. Following his studies in France, he left to the US for a year abroad in Washington DC. When the time came to return, he wanted to stay. “But 2009 was not a great time to be looking for a job in finance,” he said. Without a valid visa, Alexander came back to Luxembourg, where he got a job with RTL Group.

Now, working at BCEE and living with his girlfriend, he intends to stay. “If someone had offered me the chance to leave, say two years ago, I would've done it. But now, not anymore. We've started thinking about kids and a family,” the 28-year-old explained, and Luxembourg has come to mean home, stability and security.

Multiple national identity disorder

Louise Groth-Pedersen
Louise Groth-Pedersen
Photo: Anouk Antony

Deciding to settle down in Luxembourg, however, does not solve what could be described as multiple national identity disorder.

“I'm asked a lot – what are you?,” said Louise Groth-Pedersen, who has lived in Luxembourg since she was eight. “My blood is Danish, but my heart belongs to Luxembourg,” she added. “But at the same time I'm not willing to give up Danish citizenship to get a Luxembourg passport.”

Creating a coherent whole out of these different elements has not always been easy, Louise admitted. “I've struggled with this,” she said, adding: “I used to miss the place where I belong 100 percent. In the past I thought Denmark was that, but now when I go back on holiday, I miss Luxembourg.”

Leaving the country after graduation in 2004 for Scotland to study, Louise returned to the Grand Duchy that same year. “I didn't like it. I was not at all interested in studying.” Instead, she got a job in Luxembourg, eventually studied in Trier and graduated with an MA last year. With her husband, whose family is originally from Iceland, but who also grew up in Luxembourg, she has discussed leaving the country, “but always with the intention of coming back.”

Out of a class of over 200 students, a few dozen have made their way back to the Grand Duchy, according to a rough head count by the four alumni. Like many of their predecessors and generations of students to follow, they embody a mishmash of nationalities and cultures. Far from having a “neither here nor there” identity, they comfortably combine all parts of the puzzle at the same time.

“Identity is about more than nationality,” Louise concluded.