How I moved abroad to the Netherlands

My friends were so shocked when I told them that I was moving to the Netherlands permanently. Sure, I had talked about moving to Europe, but no one was prepared for when it happened. Least of all me.

This blog is obviously about my experiences abroad, but I haven’t yet written about my journey to this wonderful tiny country of windmills, tulips, and cheese. I probably haven’t written about it because I haven’t been able to take a moment to reflect on everything’s that’s happened in the past year yet.

At least that’s one small positive to being stuck indoors. I now have PLENTY of time to reflect.

I know many people who really want to move abroad. These are my friends, and when you ask them about it, they’ll say how they want a change from the American lifestyle and to experience something new— they would jump at a chance to move to Europe for a year or two.

Now, I’m here for the long haul, but I completely understand why I know so many people who want to move, but don’t. Or rather, they can’t. There are just so many unknowns, and so many things that simply make it impossible for people to buy a ticket, pack their bags, and leave.

Does any of this sound familiar? I bet everyone at least knows people who have unmet desires of moving abroad. And I understand this because I’ve been there.

Moving abroad to Europe seemed like this dream that I had that wouldn’t come true. Especially moving to the Netherlands, which was my goal. Now that I’m here, I know how lucky I am for things to have fallen into place.

It all started four years ago when I met Sara, my Dutch girlfriend when we were both in a Ph.D. program in Philadelphia in the US. At the time, I was already keen on spending some time in Europe. I kept looking for ways to maybe go abroad to a university for a year-long exchange or something similar. But leaving was never the easiest option for me— I had dreamt of moving abroad for years, and even though I was travelling and going on short trips all the time, I was never able to move. The US always had more options for me.

But Sara wanted to move back to the Netherlands after she was done with the program. A month into us dating, I visited her in Amsterdam during the summer while I was on a “Euro-trip”.

Barcelona, one of my stops on my Eurotrip before heading to Amsterdam.

That week that I spent in Amsterdam was incredible. I feel in love with the city immediately, and I knew that I wanted to move to the Netherlands with Sara.

Me enjoying my first “koffie verkeerd” (coffee “wrong”) in Amsterdam! I absolutely loved sitting outside at cafes and writing postcards to friends.

Fast forward to three years later, when I was about to graduate from our Ph.D. program. Sara still had a year to go, but I had to make a decision. Was I going to take a job in the US? Or was I going to try to get a job in Europe, preferably in the Netherlands?

Because both Sara and I knew that moving to Europe for me while Sara was still in the US would be extremely difficult, she was happy to support me no matter where I ended up taking a job. On top of wanting to move to Europe, I was also trying to switch careers. Being an academic was no longer right for me, but as you know, if you’re trying to start fresh at a totally new career, it’s going to be hard! Getting a job is difficult.

Let alone getting a job where whoever hires you is going to have to get you a work visa.

If Sara lived in the Netherlands, I would be able to move and get a “partner” visa. We wouldn’t need to be married for that to happen, which is a great thing about the Netherlands, but Sara would have to be living there already. Her being in the US made it really tough because I would need a work visa to move.

But… I REALLY wanted to move.

You also have to understand how I felt at the time. I was in a rut. I had liked my Ph.D. program, but I really wanted to do something more practical and fast-paced. I liked living in Philadelphia, but on each trip to Europe, I found myself simply being **enchanted** with everything.

I wanted to live in a cute little apartment in one of those pretty buildings. Each day in Philly with no change just made me feel even more frustrated. Trying to get a job somewhere either in Philly, D.C., or even New York where I’m from really didn’t seem satisfying. I was ready for a new chapter in my life, I was ready for something new.

This is going to sound silly, but I even made a vision board with this picture of Amsterdam on it.

Amsterdam, one of my favorite cities in the world. Look at all those bikes, the beautiful buildings, and the lovely canal!

But just wanting to move wasn’t going to be enough. I knew I had to do better than that if my dream was going to become reality.

So I started applying to jobs, but with no luck. I had a hard time just finding jobs to apply for. Almost all of the jobs I saw needed me to speak fluent Dutch, and let me tell you, becoming fluent in Dutch without living in the Netherlands is pretty difficult. And Dutch people speak English so the fact that I spoke English wasn’t something that stood out.

In the meantime, Sara had to make a trip to the Netherlands for 3 months to do some research for her Ph.D. I had graduated already, and we both decided that since I really wanted to find a job in the Netherlands, the best chance of that happening would be if I was already in the country.

In hindsight, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but I think we both just thought that I would be able to work on my language skills and be more motivated to achieve my goal of actually moving if I was there with her. Also, I had no plans, so joining her on this trip for a few months at least seemed like a nice way to spend some time in what I hoped would be my future home country.

So, we bought tickets to leave the first week of September 2019. Through a friend of a friend, we were also able to score an apartment that would be all ours for that time. The owners of the apartment are so Dutch— they were going on vacation for three months, of course!

The thought of this trip really kept me from going insane during that time. But because the trip was for a finite amount of time, I wasn’t sad about leaving Philly. I would miss my friends for a couple of months, sure, but I’d see them in a couple of months. Time would fly.

And then I found the listing for my current position. I came across it through Sara’s alumni network at the University of Amsterdam, and I applied. TWO WEEKS BEFORE OUR TRIP. In another week, I found out that I had made it to the final interview. My interview was scheduled for the third week of September.

I had a good feeling about this.

But I was also terrified. All of this was happening only one week before heading out on our trip. The only kind of packing we had done was make room for subletters who were going to be taking over our place in Philly while we were away. What if the interview goes well and I never come back from this trip?

Before leaving for Amsterdam, I thought it was best to mention the interview to some close friends. But what do you tell them in these moments? Everyone knew I wanted to move, but there had been nothing concrete up to that point.

A few nights before our flight, Sara and I went to our favorite pizza joint in Philly, Nomad pizza, to talk about what we would do if I got the job. Emotions were really high that night. It would be a huge deal for both of us if I was actually able to go ahead and start our lives in the Netherlands. It would mean that we could start settling in the place both of us actually wanted to be. My dream, and hers, would be coming true.

On a warm summer afternoon in early September, Sara and I left with one suitcase each to Philadelphia Airport. When we arrived the next morning at Schipol, the weather in the Netherlands was cool and drizzly. The first thing we did after dropping our bags off at the apartment was go to one of our favorite places, Singel 404, for lunch. Over a goat cheese sandwich and a koffie verkeerd, I told Sara that this was it, I wasn’t going back. I was where I needed to be.

Two weeks later, I found out I got the job.

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