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Expats in Motion: Checking In (Part I)

Since this blog began a little over 7 months ago, I’ve been contacted by three different Americans who were planning to move here to Nederland this year. These women (and their families) are not aspiring expats; they are expats-to-be, in that the commitments are made, jobs accepted (and wrapped up back in the US), movers scheduled.

This is the real deal.

We’ve stayed in touch, and I wrote the posts Sharing the Expat Wealth Part I and Part II for them. I’ve also kept them in the back of my mind when I’m thinking about topics and writing other posts.

Once again, after they warmed up sufficiently, my brain synapses fired and I had this thought: if I am interested in how they’re doing, why wouldn’t fellow Adventurers be also?

So I’ve contacted all three, and with their permission, we’re going to check in with them periodically to see how the leaving, transition and entry phases are going for them.

Let’s begin with Carrie, who is moving here from New York City with her husband (he’s getting transferred) to Amsterdam in less than 10 days. Despite the fact that his company arranges the packing/moving piece (a very important piece indeed), don’t think they’re just sitting around eating bon bons and twiddling their thumbs.

She reports that they’re excited about so many things: new job (for him), exploring new places, meeting new people and trying different foods in a new culture, enjoying a bicycling lifestyle and somewhat slower pace of life (even in A’dam, when compared to NYC).

It’s a ‘whirlwind’ of activity as they prepare to leave their current life and start their Dutch adventure. Carrie said two things that I found very interesting, and (if I may add my own humble opinion), very healthy.

First, paraphrasing Don Rumsfeld (she surprised herself with that, but I can tell you from personal experience having observed him in a few meetings, regardless of what you think about his policies and decisions, the man has one of the most amazingly insightful analytic minds going), she’s been freaking a bit about the ‘unknown unknowns’ in the expat journey.

‘The issues I can see arising (cultural, language, logistics), I’ve been somewhat able to wrap my head around. However, it’s the sheer number of things that I cannot prepare for (and I’m someone who really, really likes to be prepared for things) that keeps me up at night…it’s remained somewhat abstract…not seeing my new country or apartment before living there is a very strange sensation indeed…it feels very much like something is happening around me versus I am making anything happen.’

This isn’t surprising when you’re in that pre-move limbo and counting down the days.

Carrie and her husband have also been taking the opportunity to visit family and friends in NYC and elsewhere, saying their goodbyes and letting these people know how important they are to them.

‘Strangely, as much as the goodbyes have been sad, being reminded that I have such a good base of people on whom I can rely and draw strength from has made me more confident about moving.’

The latter statement is particularly important, as research has found it really helps to ‘leave well to enter well’ when moving between cultures. I’ll be going into more detail on this concept in a later post, as well as in my five-part series on Emotional Resilience in Expat Life.

Next up is Corinne, whose husband was also transferred to A’dam for work. He arrived in mid-spring, and she and their daughter joined him here a few weeks ago.

Although she hasn’t been here long, she’s in a slightly different place because she’s made the leap. There’s something about getting on the plane, knowing that you’re moving farther away (both geographically and culturally) than ever before.

‘My first impression was the brilliant sunshine, the picture perfect weather.’

I actually giggled a little bit while typing that sentence. She’s absolutely right, the weather this spring has been sunny, dry and amazing. Seriously amazing. It’s not that it’s a case of false advertising, only that it can change in an instant.

Aware that she’s in the ‘honeymoon’ phase of transition, she goes on:

‘I can see the 4-6 month lull being hard, especially for me because it will be in the dark, colder months.’

I love that she is aware of the stages expats/cross-culturals go through as they make the transition into a new culture. In fact, she’s done a great lead-in for me to Part II in the Emotional Resilience series (Transitions & Change) which will be published by I Am Expat next Tuesday June 7th.

Husband and I were discussing the weather earlier today and we can’t help but feel that we’ve traded a glorious spring for a not-so-great summer. We agreed there’s nothing to do but enjoy the weather now for what it is, and not worry about how it might (or might not) change.

Because it can. And it will. In the meantime, savor every wonderful moment, and store it away for the proverbial and literal Dutch rainy day.

Corinne continues:

‘I’m also surprised by how nice the Dutch are, they all speak English quite well and are more than willing to help in any sticky situation.’

She gave an example of an elderly Dutch gentleman giving her assistance in the grocery store when she was mistakenly buying one product thinking it was another. She strongly advises getting a translator app on your phone, a dictionary or handbook because:

‘…the food stores are very intimidating…be prepared for an entire new world of food, not only types, but tastes and quality – my impression is that the meat is so much more lean and fresh here.’

Just as Carrie looks forward to ‘the bike life’, Corinne reports:

‘I am amazed by all the bikes, and got mine today with a seat in the front for my daughter.’

Go Corinne! Je wordt erg Nederlands (you’re becoming very Dutch)!

Our third expat-to-be is Debbie. Like Carrie and Corinne, she’ll be moving over with her family. Unlike them, she’ll be moving to an island in the southern, more rural part of The Netherlands, with the intention of remaining here permanently.

She’s married to a Dutchman, and they’ve decided to close their business and sell their home in Virginia and move their family over; with her husband, she will learn the hotel business from his parents, with the plan to take over from them.

‘I guess we are not like most people I read about moving to NL (i.e., for a short time, and with moving assistance)…for us this is going to be our last move…I’m selling most of my stuff here …it’s hard, but have to make room for the new life in NL…It’s hard to pick out what I want to hold on to.’

They hope to move over right after Christmas, and while they are looking forward to it…

‘…we have so much to do. And then after the move, I have to learn the business…on top of this I’m the only American in town…Can I do all this? Sure I can!!!! lol’

So there you have it. Three expats in motion, having arrived in or headed to The Netherlands. Let’s wish them all well as we follow them on their respective journeys.

[Finally, for Carrie and Corinne and anyone else here in The Netherlands (or willing to come) interested in learning Dutch, I Am Expat is offering a chance to win an intensive, one-week Dutch course this summer (valued at 475 Euros).]

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