American Expat Living in The Netherlands - Interview With Meghan
|Published:||10 Nov at 9 AM|
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Here's the interview with Meghan...
Where are you originally from?
The United States. I grew up in New Jersey and was living in Arlington, Massachusetts, at the time of our move.
In which country and city are you living now?
Delft, the Netherlands.
How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We’ve lived here just over two years. The original plan was three years, but we’ll see what happens.
Why did you move and what do you do?
My husband accepted a postdoctoral position at the Technical University of Delft. Although a university is involved, neither of us are students! He has a PhD and is doing research on a three-year fellowship in the department of bionanoscience. I am a freelance writer and editor—and I have recently begun working as a tour guide in Delft.
Did you bring family with you?
Well, it’s more that my husband brought me. His job offer enabled me to have a good visa status in the Netherlands (including a work permit).
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I hit the ground loving it. I think the transition takes time, because at first everything is new and exciting (and you’re constantly busy with paperwork and finding a place to live and sorting out a hundred small tasks). Because the Netherlands is still a Western, first-world country, at first I didn’t think society was so different here. It’s actually taken time to notice the differences in cultural attitudes, which can make me feel like an outsider. I’d say the transition lasted the whole first year, until we’d been through every season once.
Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
We are lucky to have easily met tons of international friends through the university department Tim works in, and through an international church we attend in den Haag. Our friends are a true variety of nationalities—including Dutch and American, but also German, Canadian, Korean, French…
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
- If you like running or walking, I recommend exploring the large park and farmland area called Delftse Hout. This is just on the outskirts of Delft and sprawls into miles of beautiful trails.
- The Keukenhof is worth seeing once.
- One of my favorite events in Delft is the annual lichtjesavond. This is a night in early December when the town is beautifully lit. The old churches are open; there is music and food and drink, and vendors selling a variety of things. It’s a great night to be out walking around with a cup of cocoa or mulled wine. This year’s is 11 December and you can find info at www.delft.nl
- Shop the Haagse Markt! It’s incredible. Produce is very affordable, and the fish is fresh and tasty. This is also a good place to find spices, nuts, grains, and other items that aren’t typically Dutch (tending more toward Asian or Middle Eastern).
- If you move to the Netherlands, get the annual MuseumKaart. At less than €50 per year, it enables you to visit tons of museums and historical sites around the country for free or very much reduced admission. I’ve used mine at places like the Anne Frank Huis; Delft’s Prinsenhof; the Van Gogh Museum; and Amsterdam’s photography museum, FOAM. Many of these are €12-15 each, per visit, otherwise!
What do you enjoy most about living here?
I have immensely enjoyed the freedom to travel. It is so easy to move around inside Europe - particularly within the EU, where all I need is my Dutch residence card. We watch for deals on the train system (very easy to navigate) or on the budget airlines, and we go when we can. The amazing thing that makes this possible is how much vacation time Dutch employees get compared to Americans. At my last job in the States I got two weeks a year; here, my husband gets nearly two months. And people will take it—even his boss and “higher-ups.” People really appreciate the value of your life outside of your career. That mentality is so refreshing.
How does the cost of living compare to home?
I think it’s comparable—but we came from an expensive area (Boston) on the US East Coast. Our modest apartment in the center of Delft stretches our budget a bit, but we wanted to live in the historic area and not in one of the more modern outposts. Groceries and household items are comparable. Clothes, to me, are expensive here and don’t go on sale as often as in the US. Eating out is often not a good deal, either.
The key thing is that we earn Euros. We know expats who technically work for an American company while living here, and so they make US dollars. Then you’re always at the mercy of the conversion.
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Expensive flights to the US make it hard to see family more than once a year. Dutch has proved a very difficult language to pick up. The Netherlands doesn’t really boast a great culinary tradition. We mostly cook at home, but find that dining out tends to be unsatisfying, or not a good value for our money.
If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Just get out and explore. Try new things. Pick a different town on a Saturday, ride the train there, and walk around. Keep your eyes open to all the old buildings and the canals—don’t take your time abroad for granted.
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The hardest aspect is simply being away from family. We are both close to our families, and only seeing them once a year is a huge change. Since we moved, I’ve been twice to the US. In general, I miss the people more than the actual place.
What is your routine like, and don’t you get lonely?
We have heard many times that when a couple has moved abroad for one person’s job, the other person can wind up lonely or unhappy. I’ve seen that to be true for friends (particularly if the lonelier person is staying at home with a child), but that hasn’t been my story. Tim often laughs when people ask him about me, because I have been mostly happy the whole time we’ve been here.
I do work alone, and I work from home. Most days I spend hours sitting at our kitchen table with my laptop, or go out to a café and do the same thing. But we do enough things with friends on the weekends or in the evenings that I never feel isolated, and the creative nature of my work means that time alone to think is a good and necessary thing.
Because I do most of our shopping and errands, I’ve been able to become more familiar with Delft and Dutch businesses than Tim has. I’ve also picked up Dutch faster because I have to use it, whereas Tim’s work is all in English.
What has surprised you during your time abroad?
I think I’ve been surprised by an increase in my general confidence level. From living abroad, you gain this sense that you’ve tackled some complicated or difficult tasks, and solved them. This shows itself in different ways. Since we moved here, both of us have gotten more committed to running. We have a little more time, and no car, and miles of beautiful parks and bike paths nearby. Last year I ran my first (and then my second!) half marathon. I would never have dreamed I had that in me.
When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
When I picture repatriation, I always think of the scene from the end of The Lord of the Rings trilogy - where the friends have returned to the Shire and to their old pub from before their adventure, and they find themselves looking at each other and realizing they don’t belong anymore. This is my fear - that we will find ourselves changed and have a hard time “fitting in.” I also have a contradictory fear, which is - what if we forget? What if the lessons we’ve learned don’t stick? I worry, too, about how we’ll ever return to that structure of minimal vacation time and high-intensity emphasis on career.
Yes, I do worry about moving back, but I hope that wherever we go we’ll find likeminded people, and that we won’t cut our ties abroad.
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
- Don’t get so wrapped up in work that you never truly explore the place where you’re living, or never do any traveling.
- Embrace the bicycle! It’s a fantastic and authentic way to get around. You’ll be amazed at what you can actually transport on the fiets if you set your mind to it.
- Get involved in stuff. I volunteer at our church. Tim briefly joined a band. He plays in a pick-up football (soccer) league. These things have made all the difference for us in getting truly plugged in to a diverse group of friends.
- Always ask people for tips about where to visit in their home countries or cities. They are usually flattered, and you will get advice that trumps any guidebook.
- Don’t forget home. Bring photos of family, and keep up traditions that are meaningful to you. Invite friends over to celebrate American Thanksgiving or some other holiday.
- Extra - I almost forgot… buy really good rain gear!
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My blog is called “Unquiet Time” and it was begun before I had any idea we were moving overseas. When we moved, I began chronicling our transition to Dutch life and the challenges of being a new expat. Two years in, I’m writing about the international experiences that still surprise us and about our European travels (which I am happy to say have been many!).
My blog also features two segments that reflect my quirky passion for correct use of the English language. “Everyone Needs a Copy Editor” showcases public and humorous typos collected by me or submitted by readers. “ ‘American’ ” came directly from my experiences being in a Dutch store or market and seeing products that were blatantly advertised as “American”—either erroneously, or to my chagrin. I’m always ready to snap a photo when I see a sign advertising an “American Hot Dog” or “American T-Shirt.”
How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
I’d be happy to talk to future or current expats! You can leave me a note on my blog, or email me at meghanblosser[at]gmail[dot]com.
Meghan has her expat blog called "Unquiet Time" http://unquiettime.wordpress.com which is very worthy of a visit. "Unquiet Time" has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here which would love a nice review if you can spare a quick moment! If you liked this interview with Meghan, please also drop her a quick note below.
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Comments » There is 1 comment
Nice post! I'm living on The Netherlands as well and I agree with most of what you said :) Consider yourself lucky to have that international network too, it's pretty hard to find! I think this country can be enjoyed to it's fullest when you have a good mix of local & international friends who offer different perspectives.