USA to The Netherlands - Expat Interview With Jane

Published: 2 Dec at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Netherlands
Jane Dean wanted to travel – so long as she could always return home. Born and raised in England she and her family were initially transplanted to the sultry heat of New Orleans, USA, where she made a new home, bloomed in the warmth and became a US citizen. This was quite enough travelling for one person, but fate intervened and she found herself dragged by the roots to the dark and cold of Europe and the Netherlands. This time without two of her offspring. As an editor and writer (have laptop, no excuse not to travel) she pens articles on life in the Netherlands in particular, and international life in general. She prefers to look at the experience from a life perspective and usually has a lot to say, hence her blog, Wordgeyser (see listing here)


Here's the interview with Jane...

Where are you originally from?
Born and raised in the UK, moved to New Orleans, USA, eventually becoming a naturalised US citizen.

In which country and city are you living now?
The Hague, the Netherlands.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We've been here since July 2006. Our stay will not be permanent but we have no date – as yet – for leaving. We're expecting another 3/4 years but who knows?

Why did you move and what do you do?
The company my husband works for moved its head office from the USA to the Netherlands. We decided to take the opportunity to return to Europe for a while – we have parents in the UK and felt the need to be closer to them as they get older. It was also a wonderful chance for our youngest child, who had only experienced life in the USA, to spend some time in Europe. I'm a freelance editor and writer – all I need is a laptop, so where we live is not an issue.

WordgeyserHow did the decision impact your family? Did you bring family with you?
This was the toughest challenge for us. Once my husband accepted the position in the Netherlands our eldest son announced he was leaving the USA and returned to the UK, while our daughter, in her sophomore year at a US college, decided to stay there. Our youngest son, then 13, came with us. For the first time our family had been separated, and it has been a huge learning curve as we've adjusted to difficulties of the physical distance and differing time zones between us.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Relatively easy as both my husband and I had grown up in Europe and have a European/ international mindset. Our youngest son attended the American school here, which put us in contact with other foreign nationals (not only Americans) who were in the same situation as us. We're both social people, happy to say 'yes' and know the world won't end if we make complete fools of ourselves.

Where did you decide to live in the Netherlands? Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats?
The Hague has an expat population of around 50,000 and the city is home to 131+ international organisations, 316 international businesses, 102 embassies and 13 consulates. It has a diverse multi-cultural community whose working language is English. It is rare to meet anyone – local or expat – who doesn't speak English. Meeting people has been incredibly easy but we socialise mainly with expats – mostly because our friends have been met through school/ work and tend to be international, including international Dutch.

WordgeyserWhat are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Whatever your interests, the Netherlands – and The Hague in particular – has a diversity of activities on offer. Theatres, museums, art galleries, concerts (every type) good restaurants and a real buzz with a café lifestyle and a lively nightlife. Situated close to the sea, there are miles of beaches, woodlands and public parks. Green space is highly valued and well maintained and, unsurprisingly, water plays a huge part in leisure activities. For an international city it feels safe and non-threatening – pedestrians and bikes have priority everywhere, and an exceptional public transport system of trams and trains. It's a great place for singles, couples and families. It has more of a community feel than Amsterdam and the locals are tolerant and welcoming of the expat/ foreign community.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
Ease of global travel and travel within europe. Brussels is 2 hours, Paris 3 hours by train (5 by car) – I have a friend who regularly takes a day trip to the Louvre – and driving is fast and easy, once you leave the Netherlands. (The Dutch are strict on speed limits with speed cameras everywhere. The good news is you receive a speeding fine through the mail and pay it – there are no penalties on your Drivers' licence.)

WordgeyserThe Netherlands is at it's most beautiful in spring – but we enjoy the four season climate and make the best of the sunshine when we see it! The winters can be fun too, especially if the canals freeze and everyone dusts off their ice-skates. We love that everyone rides bikes – it's safe for the kids to bike to school and get around without having to rely on parents to ferry them everywhere. Teens here seem more mature as they are allowed to be independent from a younger age than many cultures, and it is safe for them to be out on their own. The Dutch are tolerant, and we love being part of an international/ multicultural community.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Very expensive compared to the USA and UK. Housing costs are mind-boggling in both buying and rental markets. Clothing, electronics and eating out are expensive. However, this is all relative depending where you've moved from.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The Netherlands is a densely populated country which can be a shock if you're used to big open spaces. However, the Dutch cope with this extremely well – they respect each other's privacy and personal space. High density living is balanced by well-planned public open space – parks, woodland, beaches – and well-designed housing.

Unfortunately the Dutch themselves can be very abrupt in their manner and can come across as rude. Sometimes they are plain rude! It's something everyone who moves here has to adjust to. Lack of customer service is a real issue – 12 weeks for Internet connection in the summer months is not unusual. Customer satisfaction is not on the Dutch radar, 'It is not possible' being a well-known mantra, although things are changing as the recession bites.

When the weather is good and the sun shines the whole country takes to the bike paths, beaches, water – any outdoor space – and it can be overwhelming to be among so many people. The weather is a challenge if you move from somewhere warmer – if you love grey and rain, this could be the place for you. It doesn't always do it for me.
The Dutch health philosophy may be difficult to adjust to if you move from the USA, but we have experienced the same standard of care as in the US and have had no issues.

WordgeyserIf you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Maintain a sense of humour, keep smiling and embrace the good things the Netherlands has to offer – you will find them.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The scattering of our family around the globe and maintaining a close-knit unit when we're separated by thousands of miles and several time zones. Losing friends has been hard too – many expats are here on 2/3 year assignments so friendships will be made only to end when the friend leaves. It can be hard always being the one left behind.

The language – although English is widely spoken all official documents/ paperwork is in Dutch. Phone the cable company/ phone company/ hospital/ plumber and you are likely to be faced with a menu selection in Dutch. You will find your way through this, but it can be tough when you've just arrived. The Hague has recently taken a decision to make all street signs Dutch and English, a small move but greatly appreciated.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
This will be interesting as home has always been where we are. Holding both US and UK (therefore European) passports offers us a huge choice of where we might ultimately live. We know the Netherlands, for a variety of reasons, is not our final destination. That may depend on where our children live. Or not.

WordgeyserWhat are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Do your research, there is so much information on the Internet, use it. Don't overlook the possible negative effects the move may have on your family and research this too. There are some superb books out there to help with cultural adjustment, particularly with a family.
  2. Learn the basics of the language (it's good manners), along with other local customs – it'll help you to adjust more quickly.
  3. NEVER refer to the Dutch (or any other host nation) as 'they' (as in 'they have no idea how to do things here'). This makes me cringe. Because things may be done differently does not mean they are worse/ better, only different.
  4. Get out and socialise as soon as you can – the unpacking will wait.
  5. Stay positive, be open to new experiences, embrace the journey and have FUN!

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Wordgeyser began a few years ago as a way of making sense of my surroundings – not where we've been, what we've seen, but our experiences in settling into a different culture. The struggles of learning a new language, dealing with the health system, learning a new way of doing things, appreciating a different social philosophy.
Generally little is written about the harder side of expat life – dealing with death and illness of family and friends from a distance, sometimes feeling isolated and rootless, and losing your identity as a trailing spouse – I've tried to be honest and write about the good, bad and sad of international life while being upbeat and positive.
I hope the blog is more fun/ humorous than serious, (life in the Netherlands with a teenage boy and parenting our older two over time zones has resulted in a lot of useful material, as has the complications of learning a new language) but life isn't always perfect and pretending otherwise is not helpful or realistic.
I've been surprised how much our experiences have resonated with both long-term and newly arrived expats

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Via email wordgeyser{at}gmail{dot}com, my site (see below), Twitter @wordgeyser and Facebook

Jane blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Wordgeyser has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Jane, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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