Challenges of Expats – Interview of the month October

In my goal to support expats, I take regular interviews, which reveals great stories and advise. Whether you are an expat or thinking to become one, you can enjoy these stories. Arriving in a new country is such a change, and  how to feel ‘’at Home’’ can be a challenge. How can an expat integrate easily?

This month I introduce you to Nick, coming from overseas to the Netherlands. How did Nick adjust and integrate? Just sit down,  relax and enjoy this month’s true story 🙂

Interview with Nick

From Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania (North East of the USA) to The Netherlands…

Who is Nick?  

Nick: ‘’I am 31 years old, single and have no children. I got my bachelors degree from in Information Sciences and my masters in Human Computer Interaction. I work for PPG Industries, a large company in Pittsburgh that nowadays mostly make coatings. In the Netherlands some of our brands are, Sigma Coatings and Histor. I can’t really tell you anything about the paint though, I am in IT and am on a team that is responsible for the European firewalls at the company and our European data centers in Amsterdam and Paris and our brand new data center in Hong Kong.

Any hobbies?

I like to go to the gym to lift weights or do some cardio. I love to travel and recently have gone to my 27th country. And, I love Dutch (or any country really) special/craft beers. You can find me at “proeflokalen” here in NL or at one of Haarlem’s many craft beer events 😉

When did you move and why the choice of  The Netherlands?

Nick: ‘I came in 2010 and really NL picked me, I knew almost nothing about it at the time… I wasn’t really even sure if it was one country or multiple… Netherlands. I was still working for PPG then at the headquarters in Pittsburgh and had a Dutch boss. He asked me if I would like to work in Europe and without almost any hesitation I said YES! After a few business trips to see how I would like it here just to be sure, I packed my bags and got on a plane with a one way ticket to Europe!

Your decision is the first step,  but then comes the planning, no?

Nick: ‘’ Actually the move was pretty easy for me, since I was moving for work, my company set me up with an amazing relocation agent. She was actually Danish but had lived in the Netherlands for a long time. She took me around apartment shopping before I even moved here, she also setup all the required things like registering at the doctor’s/dentist’s, getting a bank account and BSN number, exchanging my driver’s license, etc.’’

Rachel: ‘’I absolutely agree that moving through work makes it so easy, and I had a few occasions like that too. The times I moved and search a job myself was entirely different and time consuming.’’

Nick: ‘’Also before moving, I decided that I absolutely wanted to learn Dutch so I went to the Library in Pittsburgh and signed out as many learning Dutch books/software as I could and started to try to teach myself right away before I moved.’’

Rachel: ‘’It’s great that you learned some BEFORE, and I couldn’t repeat that enough to everyone. It saved me a lot of stress in every country I lived in when I’m able to actually ask simple things as directions or groceries.’’

What was your first impression of  the country The Netherlands?

Nick: ‘Old, beautiful, European! I must say though that it was a bit tough in the beginning because even though I had my apartment from the beginning, I had nothing with me but some clothes, everything else was on a boat in the middle of the ocean taking another month. All that time I was in a hotel in Haarlem, which was basically in the middle of nowhere so that was not a very good start. To make things worse, coming from America, I basically needed to buy everything that plugged in here in Europe so that it would work. I found that very difficult to do working full time and with stores closing at 6 and at the time, also closed on Sundays. I thought (and still sometimes do) “Do they just think that everyone has a stay at home wife to take care of all of this?” Although now I’m much more used to it, it even surprised me when I’m in the US visiting family and we go to the store after dinner for something.’’

Rachel: ‘’ I can absolutely relate Nick, but trust me, you are still fortunate. When I was living in France, Spain, Belgium, UK, and other countries, there was NOTHING open on Sundays and even Saturday’s they close early. So, on Saturday morning’s, when I really wanted to go to the gym, I had to get everything in just a few hours.’’

What was your first impression of  The Dutch people?

Nick: ‘’Hmm, I’m not really sure I had a first impression of them, they all seemed to be okay. Of course now I have many opinions about them, mostly good though. In fact for the most part, I really prefer the way Dutch people are in general as opposed to my own countrymen.’’

Did you integrate and adjust smoothly with the Dutchies?

Nick: ‘’At this point I would say yes. As mentioned I started to learn Dutch before I moved here and made a huge effort to learn after I got here. I was having conversations after about 1½ years and really started to feel comfortable after 2. People tell me this was really fast but for me it felt like a lifetime! It was literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Because you don’t have to learn you really really have to make the effort pretty much 110% on your own. I am now fluent in Dutch and do everything in Dutch unless I am with other expats. Sometimes it’s interesting to think about, like the other day after leaving the car dealership I thought, wow, I just bought a car totally in Dutch!

I think I even think more like a Dutch person now, I have people tell me “oh come on, your basically Dutch” :-).

What’s your opinion on the living standards compared to the US?

Nick: ‘For the most part much better. In the Netherlands your personal life takes priority where in the US it’s usually your work life. Here in NL it’s nothing to just spend a day out on the terrace having drinks with friends without ever looking at your watch or having to be at 10 different places at the same time. Here when you are on vacation, you are on vacation, I get discouraged here from answering emails while I’m away while in the US it’s pretty much required. Speaking of vacation, while in the US, I had 11 days of vacation for the entire year, here I have more than 3 times that and still am working for the same company. Here the world is at your doorstep. There are some many other really interesting places to go that are close by. It’s nothing to go to Germany for the day and as soon as your cross that line all of a sudden everything is different, the food, the architecture, the people, so interesting, in the US you just don’t have that. And public transport, my God it’s great! I only have a car because I work in the middle of nowhere and that is the only time I ever use it, otherwise it just is not needed and I love it.

One thing that I do miss from the US though is absolutely good food. That is one thing that is disappointing about NL, so many places in Europe have amazing food, Holland… eh, I mean it’s not bad but it’s just way too bland and similar for my tastes.  There are exceptions of course.

What was your biggest Challenge moving to the Netherlands?

Nick: ‘’ The BIGGEST challenge is …learning Dutch hands down the hardest thing I did not only here but ever, it took a lot of commitment but it’s totally doable and worth it.

Please tell us your Number ONE TIP when coming to The Netherlands.

Nick:’’TOP tip # 1: Learn Dutch! So many people say they are going to do it or start and then give up but keep on trying, you can do it. Life here is so much better since I speak Dutch, I understand everything around me, letters in the mail, cooking instructions on food, the news, etc. You also really see people differently when they are speaking in their native language; I was really surprised to see a different side of so many people after speaking to them in Dutch after only knowing them in English. You will also be invited to things that you otherwise may not have been invited to, say a party/ get together with all Dutch people, (they really don’t want to speak English all night just because you are there), going to a Dutch movie, etc.

’’TIP # 2: Travel! It is so easy and cheap to get to so many places from here be it with the train, bike, or plane. Schiphol is an amazing resource to have at our doorstep; we can pretty much fly anywhere in the world direct, take advantage of that.

Thank you very much!


Picture taken in The Austrian Alps, Innsbruck, my most recent adventure