90 days in: Life in the Netherlands. Is it time to stick or twist?

When I was about one month into my time in the Netherlands, I met up with some other expats.  Those that were here for one year shared with me that the first six months were the hardest.  Some shared horror stories of how they cried every night.  I sympathized with their situation but didn’t feel that I could relate.

Well…fast forward to month three.

Living as an expat certainly is like a roller coaster.  The first few weeks are filled with fascination and sensory overload.  Everything is new and there is an excitement about what lies ahead.  Now, three months into my new life in the Netherlands, life is familiar but oddly, at the same time, unfamiliar.

We are settling into a routine as a family. We have our doctor, our dentist, our trusted neighbour who holds our spare key. The kids are enjoying school and having playdates. I have my favorite cafés. We have a structure to our days.

However, having only three months under our belt, there is also a recognition that my knowledge is very surface level.  I only need to divert from my normal route to realize there are complete neighborhoods I have yet to discover.  When I have trouble navigating a phone tree in Dutch, I am reminded of my significantly limited language skills.

Community

Three months in, I am still developing my community.  Haarlem is a great city for expats.  Every week, there are countless opportunities to meet new people.  We share a common bond and can spend hours discussing where we are from, what brought us here and which Albert Heijn is our favorite.  Although it can be very exciting to meet new people, there is also a desire to go beyond the small talk and build deeper connections.

My friends at home have been my friends for over 20 years.  We know, and accept, each other’s quirks.  Friends that will help you out in the middle of the night. I know they exist here, but it will take time to get to know each other and build our relationships.

I am also still developing my new identity.  For me, my identity was connected to my work.  I was a mom, but I was also a marketer. I worked for a great company for ten years and had a sense of accomplishment in my career.  Stopping work for the move has been an adjustment.  In one way, I am grateful for the break as juggling a move and getting the family adjusted while working would have been extremely challenging.  I have enjoyed spending time with my children and interestingly have been able to keep myself busy.  However, there is an anxiety in building up a new network and trying to discover what is the best next step for your career.

Lucky

Just as life, I have my ups and downs. Some days I ride my bike through Grote Markt and watch the tourists admiring the city and think to myself, “I actually get to live here.”  Then, there are days in which I jump on my bike, get lost trying to find a store and think to myself, “Gosh, I’m sick of going to ten different shops to get all my groceries.” Overall, there are more ups than downs.

I miss the familiarity of my old life.  At times, I crave the comfort of family, friends, our old home, our community; things that the Netherlands cannot offer us after three months.  Ironically, the predictability in life was one of the reasons why we moved to the Netherlands.

I recognize that it is all in the mindset.  I now have the opportunity to build a new life and have new adventures. I still can’t predict what life will look like for us in one year, but I am glad we made the move. I feel blessed to be in a city with a strong expat community and very welcoming neighbours. I truly appreciate the Dutch lifestyle; my children are starting to pick up Dutch and I am learning the subtleties of Dutch culture.  I’m embracing a positive, patient attitude and saying yes to all opportunities that come my way.

How lucky that every day I am learning something new.  How lucky it is for my children to grow up with such diverse experiences. How lucky we are to call the Netherlands our home.

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2 replies
  1. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Great article! I can relate to all you’ve shared with the exception of learning a new language (kind of). 35 years ago I took the biggest journey of my life and left my hometown in Birmingham, England to move to the United States. The friends and other expats that helped me establish a new normal we’re an incredible pillar of strength. Enjoy the ride!

  2. Alison Mills
    Alison Mills says:

    Hi Jenifer. It is as if you were writing my life story and reading my mind! Albeit 20 years ago!! My daughter was 6 months, I had left a 60hour a week Job in London, and didn’t speak a word of Dutch! However I hope it gives you and others encouragement, I met (Expat) friends in those toddler years who are as dear to me now as those back home (still are). I learnt Dutch like a madwoman and now also have a deep and close bond with The ‘natives’ I met through the kids (now three of them) school years. It is a great city to create and build communities, big enough to be a city, you can choose to live in, close to or even within a commute to – but even if you live on the outskirts it still small enough to meet up with and visit friends all over the region. Enjoy your time here – your honeymoon period is over, now ‘just life’ has begun. It hasn’t all been plain sailing but I chose to ‘stick’ and am glad if it. Good luck.

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