Sharing the Expat Wealth, (Part II)

Okay, welcome back to sharing with an inbound expat info and experience gleaned while living in Nederland.

If you happened to miss it, here’s the first installment of sharing the expat wealth from two days ago.

Just a quick reminder that these are my views, based on my research, experiences,  and conversations with many others. People choose to live outside their home country for myriad reasons. No two expats are unlike, so of course no two expat experiences are the same. Hopefully these insights will help with the transition.

  • When you arrive you’ll be fairly busy settling in, but I strongly suggest that you not neglect your own social needs in the early days. Check out various groups operating within the expat community (both in Amsterdam and the Netherlands at large). Many have developed welcome material with great information for the new expat. And do this sooner rather than later, as most groups operate September through May, so it’s nice to catch them while they’re most active. Make note of various meetings, grab your daughter and go! You’ll appreciate meeting some new faces before they scatter for vacations, trips back home or possible relocation, especially when the middle of summer comes and you’d love to have a sympathetic ear for coffee and conversation.


  • Schools and houses of worship are also good places to meet new people. For many expats, the local International schools are a good source since they’re used to welcoming and integrating families into their community. (My children attend the American School of the Hague, which offers a wide variety of programs and information for new families.) Don’t worry that your daughter isn’t school age. Give a call to the International School of Amsterdam, located in nearby Amstelveen. If they won’t release info over the phone, see if they’ll pass on your name/contact info to a couple folks, usually parent volunteers, who are involved in this sort of thing.)


  • ACCESS specializes in helping the expat community, and has offices both in Amsterdam and The Hague. The nice thing I found about the expat community is that people truly want to help, and are generally quite inclusive. The local Dutch gemeente (municipality) will also have useful information.  Of course over time you will meet and get to know folks in your neighborhood, but it’s nice to touch base with fellow expats who know the area and can provide invaluable information, as well as a chance to socialize.


  • One thing I noticed was that it tends to take longer to get internet connectivity here. Part of the issue for us was that we arrived in late July, and by the time we starting making arrangements, it was August. In the meantime, pack up your daughter and laptop, and head to the nearest library or coffee shop that has wifi. Many an expat has hung out at a Beans & Bagels or Bagel Alley location for just that reason.


  • As with many European cultures, the Dutch love to travel and take vacation in early to mid August. Don’t be surprised to walk by a favorite shop one day and see a handwritten sign telling you it’s closed for two weeks, which happened to me when I went to get extra keys made. Ditto for my preferred butcher and my favorite speciality shop.
  • Get out and about, preferably every day. Even if you don’t want to. Even if it’s raining. (The Dutch just dress for the weather and get on with life. You’ll learn to as well.) Run errands, explore yours and surrounding neighborhoods, check out tourist sites, museums, parks, etc. Here’s an earlier post on expanding concentric circles around the hub of your home.


  • Weekends are great for exploring the Netherlands as a family, so GO! Even if you don’t always feel like it, get out and about, or do something new. The Dutch are know for their active, outdoor lifestyle married to great interest in and support of music and the arts. It seems there’s always a festival or community happening going on somewhere to check out. Afterwards you’ll be glad you did, and subconsciously you’ll help make yourself more comfortable in your new home.


  • As you pore through the information you gather from groups and over the internet, you’ll find more about the phenomenon of expat culture shock. Mary Tod wrote a good three-part series at I Am Expat on the expat cycle and thriving as an expat spouse (Part I, Part II, and Part III). A similar take is Dorota Klop-Sowinska’s on expat culture shock. I happen to subscribe to a five-phased model based on American School of The Hague’s A Safe Harbour program: honeymoon, disorientation, disillusionment, recovery, adjustment.


  • Don’t worry too much about the phases of culture shock, just be aware that they exist. Not everyone experiences all of the phases, and sometimes not sequentially. Knowing that they are fairly common (consensus is they generally represent a natural process most people encounter) will help you be aware of where you or your loved ones are in the phases, and keep them in perspective.


  • When you DO get past the initial ‘survival’ stages (and you will), it’s on to the ‘thriving’ stages. Here are three takes on the latter, Elizabeth Abbott’s The Pyramid of Expat Needs (love her section about ‘brain shock’), Jessica Conrad’s Expat Adjustment: The Second Settling In (Parts I and II) and Andrea Martins’ Six Tips for Expat Women in the Netherlands. I hadn’t even read these when I wrote the article You’ve Survived, Now Thrive!, but you can see that we’re all discussing how to address similar needs.


  • Prices for most things tend to be more expensive, and in some instances there is a smaller selection of choice. (Here are a couple posts I did about shopping and supply and demand/economies of scale.) For me it presents itself with my teens’ jeans, footwear – I’m going to just come out and say it  – all footwear in terms of style but especially voetbal cleats and running shoes, all weather gear, maple syrup and our beloved ranch dressing. We also brought a supply of ibuprofen (the Dutch use paracetamol which is like acetaminophen, Tylenol), favored cold remedies, and throat lozenges (they certainly have the latter but different in taste). Not that this is one-sided: some things are better here (e.g., my kids swear by the blister pads Compeed, that I haven’t seen in the US).


  • I remembered yesterday that one of my favorite blogs, Blue Suitcase, is written by an American who arrived in Amsterdam with her husband and young daughter. She’s recently moved back to the US, but I still follow her as she writes beautiful, thoughtful posts.


  • Last but certainly not least, you will be on a constant learning curve for the first few months. When you’re slogging though it, it can seem never-ending. Embrace it. You have to go through it, so make peace with it. And remember to periodically look back and marvel at how far you’ve come!

Okay fellow expats, what would you add?

I’d love to hear your suggestions and thoughts


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