While supporting people with integration and languages, I interview expats each month, revealing personal stories, tips and advice. How is the life of an expat, and how can one feel ‘’at Home’’ abroad. Challenging, or not? This month I introduce you to Joanne Wyatt.
Interview with Joanne
Original country: London, England
Expat countries: New Zealand, Australia
Current country: Netherlands
Your story in a nutshell
I’m from London. In 2004 I went on a world trip to South America and New Zealand. While in New Zealand I fell in love with a very cute Dutch guy which resulted in me moving to the Netherlands in 2007. Now we are married and live in Haarlem. I have my own business as a beautician which I love. My hobbies include running, yoga, healthy cooking and seeing friends.
My biggest challenge by far was learning the language. When I first moved here, I lived in the East of Holland and I didn’t speak any Dutch which made it impossible to find work as there are no international companies. I could only find work as a cleaner. Moving to the West of the country made it easier to find work but the language was still a challenge. It is not an easy language to learn anyway, but Dutch people speak such great English and are happy to speak it, that it is easy to be lazy and not learn it. I know people who have lived here for years and still only know a few words.
However, even though you can get by with not speaking the language, it can still be restricting if you want to develop yourself. E.g., limited courses are in English.
Riding a bike was also a challenge!
I have had my fair share of accidents on the bike. I have cycled into a shop window. I have been hit by a car while cycling to work and almost knocked down by a bus!!
To begin with, I lacked so much confidence doing anything because I felt ashamed for not speaking Dutch and felt that my Dutch was not good enough for people to understand. Slowly (very slowly!) I improved but I had to learn to not worry about making mistakes or not being understood.
Working practices and benefits in your adopted country
I love how well organized everything is over here. How clean it is, how well maintained everything is. How well the people are looked after (you very rarely see homeless people, or people begging on the streets). Everything works. It is stark contrast to what I see when I go back to London.
Did you integrate and adjust smoothly? What went well and what was hard?
Adjusting was easy. As soon as we moved to Haarlem, I felt completely at home. It was easy to settle in, particularly once I found work. Of course, having a Dutch partner also helps. However, integrating socially has been less easy. All of the friends I have made are expats. I haven’t made many Dutch friends.
Where do you find inspiration from?
I’m always inspired by other expats or people who have travelled. I love to hear their stories. I believe these experiences broaden the mind, makes people less judgmental, more empathetic.
Was it difficult to start your business in a foreign country?
I have my own beautician business, Kiri Beauty. I did my Beauty Therapy course here in the Netherlands, that was tough as it was all in Dutch. Setting up the business was not so difficult to start with but it takes a lot of effort to build up a loyal client base. And I’m still learning every day about running my own business. And doing everything in another language can be very exhausting at times.
How do you stay motivated?
Set goals! I truly believe that the best way to stay motivated is to set yourself goals and be focused on achieving them.
What are your words of Wisdom?
Don’t forget that you are living in another country with another culture and particular nuances and that needs to be respected. I have met expats who are always complaining about Dutch directness, or the poor service in restaurants, or what time the Dutch each their dinner. You have to accept that things will be different to what you are used to. If you don’t, you will never be content.
Your Plans for the future
Short term plan is to grow my business.
Long term plan is to move to Spain. I feel like Haarlem is my home but both my husband and I would like to experience living somewhere else – where the sun shines. We think that somewhere will be Spain and would love to spend a few years (or more) living there.
Final words or anything else you wish to share
Appreciate your experience and enjoy every minute of it. I always feel so lucky and grateful to have had the opportunity to move to another country.
Please tell us your important TIP(s) when moving to a new country
Learn the language! In order to integrate, settle, develop yourself, and generally make life easier and enjoy it, you have to learn the language.
Thank you very much!