Dutch Expat Living in Singapore, Interview With Karien

Published: 10 Sep at 5 PM
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Filed: Interviews,Singapore
Karien van Ditzhuijzen was born into expat live, boarding her fist intercontinental flight at only fourteen days old. From the Middle and the Far East she moved back to Europe, tried three countries there, but found them all too cold and boring to her taste. She convinced her husband to pick up their young family and move to Singapore. There he provides the family income, whilst she looks after the kids and dabbles as a freelance author. In her jungle bungalow, she dreams of keeping chickens and growing her own vegetables, not easy in a city that prefers them in cling-film. And there is the matter of protecting them from the furry primate neighbours... Karien's expat blog is called Bedouin Mama (see listing here)

Meet Karien - Dutch expat living in Singapore
Meet Karien - Dutch expat living in Singapore

Here's the interview with Karien...

Where are you originally from?
Originally I am from the Netherlands, but as I have moved around the globe from birth, I prefer to call myself a 'constant expat'

In which country and city are you living now?

How long have you lived in Singapore and how long are you planning to stay?
We have been in Singapore for a year, and have no plans of leaving yet. We love it here.

Why did you move to Singapore and what do you do?
We moved because we we keen to move somewhere new, and felt this was a great place to bring up a young family. Singapore is exotic enough to ease my wanderlust, but comfortable and western enough for my husband, who has slightly different wishes in live. My husband found a full time job as a trader, whilst I look after the children and am a free-lance writer.

Did you bring family with you?
Yes, we have three children, that are 5, 4 and 2 years old.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
As I am an expat child myself, I found it fairly easy. I am used these kind of transitions. My eldest son needed some time adopting. For him it can be a bit confusing to be 'from' a country he never lived in, born in a different one, and now living in yet another. But mostly we all love it, and settled easily.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Singapore is a very diverse city, and an easy place to meet people. There is a large expat community, with people from all over the world, full of people looking to make friends too. Meeting the locals is sometimes harder, as it is easy to get sucked up in the busy expat lifestyle, with it's international schools, playgroups and clubs. But who makes just a little effort will find that the Singaporeans are an extremely friendly and diverse bunch too. The advantage is that locals, unlike fellow expats, won't leave you after a year or so.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Singapore has so much to offer, I wouldn't know where to begin. There are museums, parks, zoo's, nature reserves, and fabulous food, from hawker centres with cheap jummy street food to posh restaurants. And if that is not enough one can easily travel in the whole of South East Asia, and see even more.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
The hot climate, the outdoor lifestyle, the beautiful busy yet green city. The diversity of Singapore is amazing One day I will be at Tekka wet Market in Little India, getting exotic vegetables, spices, and finishing with a crispy thosai for lunch, then the next day I can be in a very western expat bar, lounging at the beach or exploring the jungle in of of the nature reserves. I do an outdoor yoga class in the Botanic gardens, which every week makes me grateful to be living in this 'City in a garden', where even daily things like working out are a treat. Shops are great too, you can buy everything you need here, although being 6 foot tall I sometimes struggle with sizes. It is an especially good city to live in with young children, as it is very safe, clean and schools and hospitals are excellent. Another thing I enjoy is having cheap domestic help. As I have health issues, bringing up young children is physically hard for me, but with my lovely and affordable live-in helper, my life has become a lot more manageable.

How does the cost of living in Singapore compare to home?
It really differs, and depends on your lifestyle. Generally Singapore is regarded as expensive, and it can be. Renting or buying a house is very expensive, so is owning a car. On the other hand there is excellent public transport and taxis are cheap. Groceries are really expensive if you shop for imported stuff in the large, expat oriented supermarkets, but local produce, and especially seafood, in local supermarkets and wet markets is quite cheap. Eating out is the same, there is a great meal to be had from anything between 2 dollars and a few hundred times that, so it is really up to you. Generally speaking prices are more western than Asian, but usually incomes match this, and taxes are low.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
If you have kids, there are fabulous international schools, but they are very expensive and can be hard to get into. Local school are a cheaper option, not bad either, but the style of learning is very Chinese, and less focused on creativity and personal development. Another downside is that it is so easy to get sucked into an expensive expat lifestyle, that it can sometimes be hard to make local friends. You do not always feel that you are really in Asia.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Get well informed, there are many forums and websites out there, giving tips and sharing information. They are also a great way of meeting people. Meetup.com is a great way of making friends (expats as well as locals) and there are numerous facebook pages to share things with like minded. You will not get far in modern SE Asia if you are not connected online!

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Weirdly, deciding on a Dutch school, and therewith immersing ourselves in the Dutch community. After I hadn't lived in the country for a long time, I needed some time to adjust to my own people. Some kind of a reverse culture-clash I suppose, which was especially weird since we just moved across the globe!

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
My husband wants to go back so the kids can go to secondary school in the Netherlands. I am sure I will struggle, but I am not one to plan ahead too much, and will cope with that when I'll have to.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Go online to meet people and get the best tips.
  2. Don't get stuck in the expat scene, but try to savour everything Singapore has to offer.
  3. Travel! All of Asia is on your doorstep.
  4. Take your time in making big decisions like where to live and which schools to use .
  5. Enjoy!

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I started my blog when we were living in the UK, and initially it was about my family, and the joys and struggles of young parenthood. At first I wrote in my mother tongue, Dutch, but by popular demand I started an English version. After we moved to Singapore I naturally started telling more about our new tropical expat lives. Also, I find that now my children are getting older, their privacy does not allow me to share all their stories, so focus has had to change a bit. I now love writing about multiculturalism, traveling with kids, and generally all our stories of live abroad. We just moved to a new house bordering a nature reserve, and every day can be an adventure, from monkeys on the kitchen table to lightning hitting. I dream of keeping chicken and quails, growing my own vegetables, which will be challenge in an urban society like Singapore, where locals prefer they poultry wrapped in cling film. And there will be the added challenge of protecting all them from our furry primate neighbours. All of this will plan to report on in the near future!

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Best to visit my blog (see link below). There is a button there that enables you to send me an email. Just scroll down till you see the 'contact me' on your right. I also have a facebook page, or if you search for Kamel, which is my online alter ego. I am happy to help people with questions about moving to Singapore or other matters.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingKarien is a Dutch expat living in Singapore. Blog description: After a nomadic childhood I couldn't adjust to chilly Europe, so I moved my family of 3 young kids back to the tropics. Join in and read my tales of expat life, parenting, recovered memories and culture clashes in sunny (or rainy) Singapore
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