Sophie: Sophie in Clogs
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to The Hague, etc.
I am a 25-year-old hailing from Toronto, Canada, who moved to the Netherlands for love. After doing an exchange to the University of Groningen for 6 months, I decided to sign up to be an international student mentor in my last year of my bachelor’s degree. On my first day, I was assigned a small group of students to lead, and one of them – a familiarly tall, blonde fellow - turned out to be from the University of Groningen. One thing led to another and, after 1.5 years of long distance, I moved to the Netherlands for him. I started my expat life by completing a Master’s at the University of Leiden. Now, two and a half years later, we are living together in The Hague and share the apartment with our little cat, Porgy.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
It was in the winter of my Master’s, and most of my classes were finished so all that was left to be done was that dreaded thesis. I needed some sort of creative outlet, but also something to force me to leave my bedroom/the library once in a while, if only to have something to show online! Having a blog has definitely made me a more spontaneous and outgoing person. Whether or not my camera is out with me, I’m always looking to discover new parts of the country, or even just new-to-me neighborhoods around The Hague.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
One of my favorites is definitely the one I wrote on the anniversary of my two years in the Netherlands. In it I talked about moving to the Netherlands in the first place, and looked back at the experiences I’d had since then.
Tell us about the ways your new life in The Hague differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Because I did an exchange in Groningen, my experience with culture shock in the Netherlands in general was quite minor. One thing I did find difficult was the difference in food culture. In Toronto eating out can be really good while being inexpensive, so I was used to going out 4 or 5 times a week. Now that I live in The Hague, I find that I do a lot more research before I try a new place, as eating out costs so much more, and am (I’m sorry to say it!) often underwhelmed by my dining experiences. Of course, this does mean that when you find a great place, you appreciate it all the more! Getting used to this was surprisingly hard, because I went from so many outings to so few, and consequently spent so much more time at home. On the bright side, I have become a pretty excellent cook! Also, food culture is slowly starting to change here, with the Foodhallen in Amsterdam, for example, and the Markthal in Rotterdam.
One thing I absolutely LOVE about my life in The Hague that totally differs from life in Toronto: how easy it is to get everywhere. The public transit system here is so good compared to what we have back in Toronto, and in general cities are so much more walkable. In Toronto it always seems to take absolute ages to get anywhere, whereas here I could be in Amsterdam in 45 minutes!
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in The Hague? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I do think I was fairly well prepared. I had taken care of getting my visa before I moved and had all the necessary documents with me (along with multiple copies) just in case I should need them again. It also doesn’t hurt that I’d lived in the Netherlands before, and that my boyfriend is Dutch. If I could change anything, it would be to start looking for housing in Leiden for my MA sooner – it took me four months to find something! (The Leiden rental market is absolutely brutal compared to the one in The Hague.)
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
When I was first learning Dutch, I was very enthusiastic about throwing in any words I knew into texts/instant messaging with Dutch friends and acquaintances. One of those words was ‘doei’ – ‘goodbye’ – but because I was still quite the beginner I thought it was spelled ‘dooie’ – ‘dead person’! I must have spelled it like that to at least three or four people before someone corrected me!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in The Hague?
- Even though everyone here speaks quite good English, I would highly recommend learning at least some basic Dutch. If not for them, then for you – it makes such a huge difference in your daily life to be able to at least sort of blend in, and not to be constantly reminded that you aren’t from here when you’re out doing groceries or trying on clothes.
- In my experience, the rental market in The Hague is actually one of the best for renters in the Randstad, so if you are renting take your time looking – no need to settle for a dump (and there are many)!
- This is less specific to The Hague/the Netherlands, but: allow yourself to miss home, and to feel blue once in a while – particularly in the beginning. Expat life is a huge privilege and a wonderful adventure, but it’s also hard, and no one is expecting you to be 100% happy all of the time. I think some people have this picture of expat life as one long, extended vacation, but the reality is that you have to do everything you do in ‘real life’, with the added barrier of a foreign language/new culture/bureaucracy/what have you. So basically: be kind and understanding towards yourself!
How is the expat community in The Hague? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The Hague is a very international city, with a very active China Town as well as supermarkets serving specific communities across the city. It is also home to a lot of embassies, as well as to the International Criminal Court and the American School of The Hague. You hear a lot of English and other foreign languages in the streets.
I haven’t sought out the expat community too extensively because I was lucky enough to make some great Dutch girlfriends fairly early on. However I do have expat friends living in The Hague who are much more active in the community. There are also several active groups for expats on MeetUp.com and on Facebook, who go out for drinks, music, dancing, food tastings – you name it!
How would you summarize your expat life in The Hague in a single, catchy sentence?
I love living in The Hague because it’s a big city but with a very laid-back feel, and I’m never more than an hour away from big cities like Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Utrecht!