Haarlem Talks with Brittany from South Africa.

Summer is gone but autumn is here! Every season has good sides to them and enjoyable moments. This month we would like to introduce Brittany to you who moved here from South Africa, works at Facebook and adores Haarlem.  She enjoys going to the gym, stays in contact with her family over Facetime, and due to the kindness of the people surrounding her, she feels like home.

Where are you from?

I was born in Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa.

Why did you leave your home country?

Considering the state of the country, I believe that it was the right move at the right time. We found that as young adults we struggled to grip our fingers around the right opportunities. Apart from the economic and political instability, I am an adventurous soul and have always dreamed of a different lifestyle to the one I was then living in.

How did you end up in the Netherlands?

Well, my grandparents and ancestors are from Dutch descent and so it was always something that was spoken about. The lifestyle, education system, government, schooling, community, language and location all matched our needs perfectly.

Why did you choose to live in Haarlem?

To be honest, I actually came in blind. I was unsuccessful in trying to find an affordable yet spacious apartment in Amsterdam and so I reached out to a family friend who actually lives in Den Bosch. He mentioned that if he could live anywhere else – that it would be Haarlem. I flew from South Africa to view some apartments and fell in love with the one I currently call home.

How do you cope with being away from home?

Facetime! I FaceTime my family at least 4 times a week when I’m not drowning at work. My home is also filled with old photo albums and picture frames to allow me to always feel ‘close’.

If you found it hard to settle down in another place what were the things that helped you get over the hard times?

The strong community presence and friendliness that Haarlem embodies really does help one feel at home. I have a strong feeling in my gut, first and foremost that I am meant to be here because internally, my soul is happy.

What do you do for a living?

I am currently the Business Marketing Project Manager at Facebook, based in Amsterdam

Do you have a hobby or any other activity you enjoy doing?

Absolutely… gym. Whether it be a run or a good, sweaty workout, I feel that it really helps you escape the busy mind and get the blood pumping. I also love visiting various markets, so we travel from city to city on some weekends to try out the various foods at some of the most amazing food markets.

In your opinion what is the hardest thing being an expat?

I would say, the language. Even although I can understand Dutch as my grandparents who were born here could ever only speak it, I struggle to respond as I have little practice. At this point, lessons are too expensive, and time is precious, to be honest.

In your opinion what is the best thing about being an expat?

The reactions on one’s face when you mentioned that you’re from South Africa. It truly is a welcoming and overjoyed expression that I see. I have fond memories made in RSA after 23 years of living there and even although we have moved on it is still nice to share some insight and answer some questions on a country you know so well and was once a hometown.

Do you have a story about Haarlem and the locals? 

One thing I am surprised by in Holland is the degree to which homeless people are looked after and provided for. Compared to SA, where there is poverty around every corner, I haven’t encountered such heartbreaking circumstances here in Holland. My boyfriend and I walked past a homeless man one day who we saw digging through a dustbin but never bothered a single person for money. We gave him some food we had and wished him well. I have since been interested in joining an initiative that gives back to the community in one way or another.

What are the things you love most about living in the Netherlands, Dutch people and the culture in general?

The thing I love most is knowing that you live in a first world country and that there are no barriers to achieving what you set out to achieve. The culture is work hard and play hard and they have a great balance between work and personal life. I was instructed not to work on weekends as that’s not the ‘done’ thing. Weekends are for families and friends. Lastly, the Dutch people are, as we all know, direct. I absolutely love this as nothing is ‘sugar coated’ and business is straightforward and clean. Apart from the work environment, the friendliness and hospitality are amazing and after being here for 5 months, there are a few more South Africans around than I expected.

Do you have a favourite Dutch dish you would recommend?

When in doubt, bitterballen. When ill, bitterballen and on a rainy day, bitterballen! Delicious.

What are the things you like most about Haarlem?

The canals that I live fairly close to. Taking a walk out on a Sunday afternoon for some sundowners and tapas, overlooking the Grote Kerk is breathtaking and really does the soul good.

What is your favourite Haarlem moment? 

Coming from RSA, it was advised to always be on the lookout. I returned back from a London trip a few months back and arrived at Schiphol at 11 pm. I travelled home to Haarlem after 12 pm that evening and even walked from the bus stop to my front door when not a worry in sight. As a female, alone, walking in the streets, after midnight – let’s just say that my family didn’t believe me.

What are the favourite places you like to go out to eat and/or drink in Haarlem?

Aangenaam. Super cute and cosy with great food served with a smile. A must try!

What do you think are the must-see locations in Haarlem?

The Grote Kerk. Its breathtaking, and I have visited it twice. Knowing that there is so much history in a town like Haarlem and witnessing historical art pieces is an amazing feeling! I did a lot of research beforehand which really made the experience more ‘real’ and gave context and perspective.

If you could give only one piece of advice to fellow expats who are new to Haarlem what would it be?

I would say, ABSORB THE CITY! Haarlem has grown on me as no other city has before and I encourage you to take the time and really look deeper into the details and appreciate its beauty. We often look past the finer details that pass us by that really stop us from fully immersing ourselves in the local culture and beauty.