Linda: Alice in the Netherlands
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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.
My name is Linda, I am 29, and I was born in Florence, Italy. I graduated as a conference interpreter at the University of Bologna, where I was also a winner of a scholarship that allowed me to study for one year in Chile. After my degree, I started working for an e-Commerce company and became an expert in Online Communications. I have always had this big crush on the Netherlands, so – after growing frustrated about the Italian economy and job market – I felt it would be good for me to move there. A few months ago, I found a job in the e-Commerce department of a big company in the Netherlands, and I left Italy to live in Utrecht.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started my blog on the day I resigned from my old job. It was a way of sharing the news with all the people I know, explaining my choice, and also keeping in touch and telling my adventures once I started living in the Netherlands. I also wanted to help people who – like me – where about to move abroad, sharing useful information and my personal experience with those practical tasks you have to get done to settle down. I have always loved writing so this seemed the perfect chance to start blogging.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My favourite post is probably the one where I tell about the results of a survey I had among friends and acquaintances who are or have been expats. It was really interesting to see how similarly we react to some things (like different food, or weather), yet how each expat has a totally different perception of their experience. I also like the more personal posts where I share my photos and thoughts, like the one about rain. From a practical point of view, I think the ones about finding a job, negotiating a contract and finding a house can be very helpful to a future or new expat in the Netherlands.
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?
Moving abroad was exciting and scary at the same time, just like any other major change in life. I thought I would adjust easily since I liked the Dutch culture, and indeed there wasn't much of a cultural shock. I enjoy discovering the differences with Italy and I am willing to adjust to them - I feel this will enrich me as a person and help me to become integrated. I don't fear losing my "Italianity" since it is the core of who I am - it can only get better if it is contaminated by a different culture. Dutch people are a little more reserved than Italians, but they are very laid-back, kind and friendly. So it is very easy to have a chat and a laugh with them, even on the street. What is more difficult is becoming intimate - they really have to like you in order for them to open up to you. I have a Dutch housemate and Dutch colleagues with whom I can hang out, but my closest friends at the moment are other expats - it's easier to bond with them since they share similar stories.
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?
Practical things are easy to get done if you just research a little. And I was prepared to feeling lonely and a "stranger" from time to time...I know it's part of the game. But sometime it has been harder than expected, especially because my partner is still living in Italy, and I miss him a lot. If I could change things, I would probably try to arrange for us to leave at the same time. But he is going to join me as soon as he finds an interesting job here, so hopefully we will be together soon.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I started to take pictures of the typical Dutch fast foods we are served at the canteen of my company – like kroket, mexicano, half-empty sandwiches with ham and ketchup – and post them on Facebook for fun since they looks so hideous. I am Italian and for us food is very important, but for my Dutch colleagues it really is…well…just food. We laugh a lot about it, and now they are the ones saying: “Look how terrible this frikandel sandwich looks! Why don’t you take a photo of it?”
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the Netherlands?
- Do some research before you leave or even apply for a job. Knowing how things work (at work and on an administration level) in the new country will save you some nasty surprises.
- Try to learn the language of the country, even if you can get away with English anywhere. It will allow you to get closer to people and better understand the society.
- Be prepared to feel sad and lonely, especially if you leave alone. It's normal and accepting it will make you deal better with it.
How is the expat community in the Netherlands? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The company I work for is full of expats from many different nationalities so it was easy to meet other people. What I struggle with is meeting and making friends with Dutch people, which is important if you wish to stay for a longer period… since the turnover is high among expats and you may feel lonely when your international friends go back home. This is why I am studying Dutch, to have a better chance at integrating with the locals.
How would you summarize your expat life in the Netherlands in a single, catchy sentence?
If life is like riding a bicycle, then the Netherlands is indeed the perfect place to learn riding :)