From London to Rotterdam - Expat Interview with Stuart

Published: 22 Feb at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Netherlands
Stuart Billinghurst’s transition from Britain to The Netherlands didn’t exactly go to plan. In fact, it wasn’t even part of the plan. That’s what happens when you are a self-declared accident prone Englishman. Originally from London Stuart has spent over the last decade living in the land of clogs and windmills otherwise known as The Netherlands and has even started a family of his own. Language misunderstandings, cultural confusion, bizarre adventures and a few cases of mistaken identity are just a few of the stories you will find on his blog called Invading Holland (see listing here)

Meet Stuart - British Expat in The Netherlands
Meet Stuart - British Expat in The Netherlands

Here's the interview with Stuart...

Where are you originally from?
I grew up my whole life in South East London until I became an expat.

In which country and city are you living now?
I’m now living in The Netherlands. I’ve worked in Amsterdam ever since I first stepped foot in the country but I’ve jumped about a bit from city to city in terms of where I live. At the moment I am living in Rotterdam.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
Originally I told myself I was only going to live here for a little while, maybe six months, a year max… It’s now been 12 years (I moved over in 2001). So I guess you could say I extended my stay a little. Every time I’ve thought about moving back to England I’ve simply realized how much I love it in Holland now.

Why did you move and what do you do?
That’s the other funny thing about this story. It was completely unintentional. Oh, I don’t mean that I originally planned to move to another country and somehow ended up in The Netherlands or that I was even considering a move to another country. I mean that when the process started I didn’t even know I’d be leaving London.

I’d been out of college for almost a year and was looking for a job in the games industry. I’d not been having much luck until I came across a rather cryptic job advertisement in a magazine. It had no address, no phone number, no real details at all, only a .com email address. It all seemed a little shady at the time to be honest. It was entirely possible that the whole thing was some kind of front for a organ harvesting scam but I decided to risk it and applied anyway.

When I received a reply a few days later there were two surprises. (1) At no point did they enquire about the condition of my internal organs and (2) they were offering to pay for my flight to the interview location in Amsterdam… The Netherlands. I was not expecting that at all.

I went along anyway. I’d never been to Holland before and I was basically being offered a free day trip. I was never expecting them to actually hire me… but they did. I’ve been working for Guerrilla Games designing computer games ever since.

My Dutch wife and our new arrival
My Dutch wife and our new arrival
Did you bring family with you?
I did not. I arranged one after I got here. I met my Dutch wife five years ago and we have just had our first child together, a girl. I could not be happier…. or more sleep deprived.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
When I first arrived I had no idea what I was doing. I was quite naive to be honest. I’d never lived on my own up until that point so it was a double whammy. It was a lot of fun but quite hard at the time. I managed to give myself food poisoning in the first week for example. I did a lot of growing up when I moved to The Netherlands (not too much though).

But there were also times when I thought I wanted to give up and go home. I’d even say I got to the point where I hated living in the country for a while. I was frustrated. I could not speak the language, everything was weird and at times I had no clue what was going on.

It took the very strange situation of breaking my ankle to change all that. Sure, I still could not speak the local language (at the time) and I still thought stuff was weird but if I could deal with all of that while hobbling around on one foot and a pair of crutches I could damn well deal with it normally. It’s the strangest epiphany I’ve ever had but I’m so happy it happened. I started to change my opinion and the way I dealt with things and realized that much of the frustration was of my own creation. I love living in Holland now. Moving to this country is the best decision I never made.

Showing my appreciation for Holland
Showing my appreciation for Holland
Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
In the beginning it took a while to meet people other than those I work with all day. Then (some time after the ankle breaking) I started taking improv classes and met an amazing group of friends (one of which was one of the two best men at my wedding). We even went on to create our own improv group and put on shows together. It’s not intentional but it does seem that most of my friends are expats. I think that’s because there just so many of us in Amsterdam… or maybe we gravitate to each other to improve our odds of survival. Who knows what an expat has been through better than another expat.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Explore. The city (Amsterdam) and the country kind of changes the more you discover about it. Especially if you arrive here as a young man as I did and stay for a while. It’s almost as if the city grows with you as you discover more about it and yourself.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
I really like the pace of life here. I like being able to cycle around the city. You would never be able to do that in London without ending up under a truck. Before I moved to the Netherlands I had not been on a bike since I was 13. Now it is a part of my everyday life. I just miss having some hills to speed down but on the positive side there are no hills for me to struggle up so it all evens out I guess (Holland is a very flat country).
I find the locals very friendly too (so friendly in fact that I married one of them). Some people sometimes describe them as blunt and sometimes this can be true but I just think they are more honest and that can be very refreshing. I like the Dutch a lot.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
It’s hard to say. I was living with my parents until I moved to The Netherlands so any comparison would be free loading in England vs. paying for stuff in Holland.

Struggling to learn the language
Struggling to learn the language
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Dutch circle parties without a doubt. Anyone who thinks a ‘party’ is off the hook when it involves sitting in a circle, drinking tea and eating cake with the grandparents in attendance is clearly crazy.

Ok. If I’m being serious I would say the hardest thing is my parents being in another country, especially now they are grandparents and I want them to be a part of my daughter’s life. However, England is not that far away so it is easy to go over once or twice a year to say hello.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid if things do not go well at first. I almost gave up on living in Holland after a few days because I was feeling terribly home sick. If it had not been for the advice of a very good friend of mine back home I might well have gone home and never came back. He said to me, “Don’t be an idiot. You can come back anytime you want. Give it a few weeks before you make a stupid decision! Idiot!" I’m very happy he said that (although he could have called me an idiot a bit less) because once I had worked through it and got used to The Netherlands I discovered that I was extremely happy here and I continue to be so.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Not always knowing what is going on. When you don’t have a full grasp of the local language it is very easy to miss out on a lot of stuff and I hate asking for stuff to be repeated in English. But to be honest it does not come up as much as it used to. Things have got a lot easier as my Dutch has improved.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Learn some of the language. Sure, most Dutch people can speak English but showing that you are at least trying to speak their language will go a long way.
  2. Get a bike. The best way to experience The Netherlands is the same way the Dutch do.
  3. Visit more places than just Amsterdam. The Netherlands has lots to offer. It’s not all just coffee shops and red light districts.
  4. Be careful crossing the street. The collection of cars, trams and bicycles zooming by in all directions can turn crossing the street into one big game of frogger.
  5. Don’t Panic. If you hear an alarm ring out over the whole country on the first Monday of the month stay calm. It is just the Dutch testing their emergency alarm system and not a warning that the apocalypse has started.

Self declared king of Holland
Self declared king of Holland
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I guess you could describe me as quite accident prone. I also have a very special talent for ending up in some of the strangest situations you can imagine. Adding an unfamiliar country into the mix meant I suddenly found myself with a lot of very amusing and very weird stories to tell.
I’ve been trapped in a lift for over four hours, I once publicly declared myself the king of Holland and I’ve been mistaken for special needs because of my terrible Dutch (to name but a few).
My blog became somewhere to share these stories along with some of my tongue-in-cheek observations on the Dutch culture.
I’ve been writing it for almost six years now. Cartoons are also a big part of it and cartoon Stuart has become quite popular. I’ve even been able to start selling Invading Holland t-shirts. When I started I never expected my blog to become as big as it has.
Thanks to the blog I have been interviewed in one of the biggest newspapers of The Netherlands, I’ve been on the radio (originally as a guest but asked back as a co-host) and I’ve even been on Dutch television. I have no idea what will happen next.
I get a lot of enjoyment out of writing my blog and I feel very lucky that people also get enjoyment out of reading it.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
I can be contacted through my blog at (see link below), found on twitter as @Invader_Stu and stalked on facebook via the fan page.

Stuart blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Invading Holland has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Stuart, please also drop him a quick comment below.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Ann Billinghurst wrote 9 years ago:

As Stuarts Mum and Dad it gives us a thrill whenever we see him featured in something like this, the newspaper, television etc. We love his blog and are the proud owners of our own special designed T shirts . We keep in touch with Stuart and his wife and daughter and we visit a couple of times a year but his blog tells us a lot of what he gets up to and never fails to make us laugh

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