Alison: A Flamingo in Utrecht
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Utrecht, etc.
My name is Alison Netsel and I moved to Utrecht five years ago from the U.S. Originally born and raised in Orlando, Florida, I have spent time over the years in a variety of locations, including North Carolina, New York City, and New Orleans. I seem to have a thing for places that start with the letter N.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
In the US, I had worked as the editor-in-chief of a magazine, so I’ve done a lot of writing over the years. I had played around with personal blogs in the past, as well, although never with any real direction. When I moved here, a blog seemed an obvious way to share my experiences with my family and friends, while also giving me a record of what I was experiencing. After nearly five years of steady blogging, A Flamingo in Utrecht has become something of a modern love letter to this amazing city that has stolen my heart.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I have more than 900 blog entries at this point, which makes it hard to choose favorites – or even remember them all! I tend to have favorite photos, since I illustrate almost all posts with photos and I have a number of posts that are mainly an excuse to post a photo. One of my favorite posts is Fights and Bikes, a humorous take on a less obvious aspect of the bike culture. Having studied the history of art/architecture, I also like my post about the Rietveld-Schröder House, a UNESCO World Heritage site here in town.
Tell us about the ways your new life in the Netherlands differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I walk everywhere, which is a nice change from having to drive everywhere. We do our grocery shopping daily, rather than once or twice a week, because we have a mini fridge that doesn’t hold that much. I enjoy both of these things, because they allow for a certain amount of spontaneity. Overall, I’ve not suffered much from culture shock. For one thing, I just don’t think the Netherlands is that different. I also have a mother and boyfriend who are both from other European countries, so I’ve been exposed to various elements of the European lifestyle long before moving here.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in the Netherlands? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I wish I could have learned more of the language before moving here, particularly since lessons here are so expensive. That’s my biggest issue these days. I can get by with English here in Utrecht, and I’ve picked up enough Dutch to handle the basics of day-to-day life, but I can’t hold an actual conversation.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Before moving to Utrecht – and I had never even visited the Netherlands before the day I moved here – I used to look at photos of the city in one of the Flickr Utrecht groups. The city became familiar to me before I arrived, as did the names of some of the regular contributors to the group. Once I moved here, I began contributing my own photos. One morning, my boyfriend was coming home after taking our dog out and a man stopped him at the front door. It seems that the man recognized our dog from photos I’d posted on Flickr. As it turned out, this man, who also happens to be a neighbor, was one of the contributors whose photos I had particularly enjoyed. We run into each other quite often now, both usually with camera in hand!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the Netherlands?
- Learn Dutch if you want to feel comfortable and make life that little bit easier.
- Don’t compare where you came from to where you are. If you’re constantly comparing, you’re likely to become miserable. Accept the differences and stop thinking that there’s just one way to do things.
- Get out and explore your new city. Learn the history. There’s a fascinating story behind almost every door and it makes the experience that much more interesting.
How is the expat community in Utrecht? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Social media – blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – really do make life as an expat much easier. There’s an Expats Utrecht group on Facebook/MeetUp that’s pretty active, and I’ve met other expats (and a few locals) across the country through blogs and Twitter and been lucky to make some great friends. If you’re new and feeling lonely, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone up for a meetup, whether it’s drinks in the evening or capoeira lessons on a weekend.
How would you summarize your expat life in Utrecht in a single, catchy sentence?
Living in Utrecht has provided me with a plethora of cultural events, 2000 years worth of history, and a city that truly feels like home to me.