When people ask me how long I’ve been here, I hesitate because I’m not quite sure. I remember the date I got on a plane to Schipol airport, a rainy day the first week of September, but I don’t recall when it was that I knew I wouldn’t be going back. When I arrived in the Netherlands on that day, I thought I would be joining my girlfriend here for two and a half months and going back. She was back in the Netherlands to conduct research, and I was still looking for my next job so I figured, why not go with her? I wanted to find a way to stay in the Netherlands because ultimately the two of us wanted to settle down here, but finding a job without a native-like command of Dutch is not easy.
I thought I would make the most of my temporary time in the Netherlands. I had visited several times before, and we had stayed in Amsterdam each time before (probably for an aggregate of 4 months) so I was comfortable with the city. I had taken Dutch classes in the US, so I thought, why not take a Dutch class in the Netherlands and meet some expats? It would be a nice thing to do while my girlfriend had some space to do her own thing and see her own friends. My first week here, between my Dutch classes, expat meet up groups, and long walks by the canals, I knew I didn’t want to go back. I had come home.
As fate would have it, one fortuitous thing lead to another, and I was able to land an interview in the second week of being in the Netherlands. Next thing I knew, I was accepting a job offer and my partner and I were making long term plans of being here together.
Because everything happened so quickly, even though it’s been almost 5 months, I’m only just starting to feel like I’m actually not just on holiday and that I won’t be going back. I bet other expats have to have the same feeling. Well, for me, I’ve just been a bit slow putting all the pieces together. There are some things that I feel have fallen into place, and others things that I wish I was a bit better at.
The thing that’s actually coming together: my work life. And this is important because we all spend several hours of our time at work. I like my job, I like my boss, and most importantly, I like my colleagues. After 3 months at this job, I also feel like I’ve gotten used to my life with this new job, new schedule, and new work environment, which includes commuting through the cute little towns in the Netherlands. I’m happy about this because at some point I felt like I would never be able to make my peace with how many hours I spent in an office. This was very different in my previous work experience as a Ph.D. student. But because I’ve been extremely fortunate with my work, they were able to give me a work from home day, which makes all the difference!
Things that I’m still failing at– doing stuff outside of work. I have an apartment. I still need to hang up the paintings and buy a shoe rack, but most of it is in place, so I guess I can say that that’s been okay. My apartment is also very pretty so I do like spending time at home. Especially now that I have a TV, I can be just like my neighbors across the street who watch shows all day at every fucking waking and non-waking hour. Seriously? What do they do for a living? I want that life. But other than my apartment and work, I’m still figuring out what hobbies can I take up here and who I can hang out with. These aspects of my days are still in the works and contribute to me feeling not quite settled. However, I guess I’m starting to get to know people at work better and hang out with him, which is turning out to be quite fantastic! This has been a recent development which makes me feel much, much better. From the expat groups and the Dutch course that I took here, I did meet some people, but admittedly, so many things happened so fast that I wasn’t able to maintain a connection with them, although there is one person who I’m still in touch with. Look at me being all open and honest and shit! I bet my therapist would be proud.
All in all, I try to remember to not be so hard on myself when I feel like I should have had everything figured out by now. I know I’m only just getting started. I’ve moved around a lot in the past, and I always say it takes a year (for me at least) before I start feeling at home somewhere. I’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds!
Right, the Dutch thing to do would be not reacting on this story, probably it is only fair to tell you I am as Dutch as they come. Though my late father would balk at that statement and tell ‘according family history we have Belgium roots. Even more extraordinary, from an age perspective I’m ancient by comparison and male to boot.
That out of the way, a few remarks. A friend recently decided to move back to the US, female, slighty younger than my age group. When asked she said ‘I like living here, just, the differences are so small it is not easy to fit in’. When asked why that is so she said, ‘it is something like driving a car in the Netherlands, you are used to an automatic but all they have is manuals. It is ok when everything works but when the gearbox stops working because you grind too many gears it becomes too high a price to pay.’
It takes work to make it work, and in all honesty probably I am the sole reason for it. Just that story is another story in itself.
Most of the Dutch have friends who are natives, at least that is in my circle of close friends. We tend to be welcoming to strangers but shy away from personal contacts until we can be ‘sure’ they indeed are friends, and that can take a long time.
Time to stop writing, after all, who the hell am I to advise anything, right. Should you want to contact me probably the best way would be, initially paul_cl_ on IG. The email address for the subscription here is one of those I never check. Sorry for that.