Linda: Adventures in Expat Land
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to the Netherlands, etc.
I'm a writer and American expat from the East Coast (including twenty years in the Washington DC area) now living in The Hague. My husband's an adult Third Culture Kid, and we've both studied and worked in the international arena most of our careers. When he got a great offer to come work for an international organization almost four years ago, it was an easy yes.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Blogging for me is one more way to express myself and what I'm observing. I started Adventures in Expat Land in November 2010 to share stories and snippets of making a life in a new place, explore issues of interest to expats and those who live across cultures, and capture the essence of living abroad. I also write short stories (fiction and non-fiction), articles and interviews, and am finishing up a non-fiction book on the importance of emotional resilience in expat life.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
It's hard to pick a favorite, but I can share a few that resonated with others. Seven Reasons Not to Become an Expat was written for those caught up in the romanticism of heading overseas. Humor is always popular, so there's Between the Seagulls and the Wolves. I also get a big response those rare times I choose to open up about issues personally affecting me, as in To Show That They Existed or Bilingual Baby M.
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?
Life here is quite different than back in the US. We spent 20 years living in a close-in suburb of Washington DC, then five years in a relatively small university town further south. When we moved here, we decided we wanted the urban experience so chose to live in The Hague. Until recently we were the only Americans on our Dutch street. I love knowing the different neighbors and odd characters that make up our little neighborhood.
I certainly experienced culture shock, going through the usual phases of expat transition. I believe everyone does to some extent, and it does help to have a sense of what's going on and why. I took an intensive Dutch language course early on; it was a bit time-consuming and hard work, but I credit it with helping to propel me into Dutch daily life. Our daughter also played voetbal with a women's team further north (in Sassenheim) for several years, and that gave us wonderful exposure to life in cities, towns and small villages throughout the region.
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 definitely wasn't fully prepared, although it helped that my husband arrived six months earlier so he'd figured out quite a bit. Our children's international school was a great go-to source, hosting an orientation for parents as well as incoming students and holding info sessions throughout the year on various topics. I also did a lot of online research once I was here, so I've got a better sense of where to look for the next international move. Expat sites and blogs are great sources of info, and I've had several people planning to move to the Netherlands find my blog and contact me.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I could tell you about the time I mispronounced a certain word and ended up telling my Dutch neighbors that I had a whore house and liked working at home...their facial expressions were priceless until I finally figured it out.
I also love that each Halloween we get dozens of Dutch and expat trick-or-treaters at our house even though we don't know any of them and they don't go to our neighbors. Last year we had almost a hundred! Somewhere there's a map with a big X on our house as the Americans who give out tons of Halloween candy.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the Netherlands?
Be patient with yourself (and others) as the adjustment to a different culture has its ups and downs, and doesn't happen overnight. Learn as much Dutch as you possibly can, and don't stop trying; you'll learn so much more about the Dutch and the Netherlands if you make the effort. And finally, dig deeper. No matter how long or short a time you'll be here, don't live your life in limbo: continue getting to know your community and new people. I met my closest Dutch friend at a busy intersection when I was walking my dog and she (a dog-lover) had just taken up jogging to run the Royal 5K. We became jogging buddies chatting together in Dutch and English, ran the race, and have been friends ever since.
How is the expat community in the Netherlands? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Not at all. With The Hague's reputation as the International City of Peace and Justice, it's very easy to encounter fellow expats. In addition to socializing and being introduced by other friends, take a class, attend events, join a club (like InterNations), and meet others through work, school, the neighborhood or place of worship.
How would you summarize your expat life in the Netherlands in a single, catchy sentence?
Living abroad and sharing the good, the less good and the just plain odd. But mostly it's good.