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Elloise: Found...Travel

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Amsterdam makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Amsterdam, etc.

Born and raised in South Africa, my family moved to California during my first year of high school. I completed school and university in the incredible beach town of San Diego, California. A place where students surf in the morning before school as a daily activity, and the sun shines every single day. I became a European history teacher there at a high school, and traveled with my students every year to Europe – a habit that I had started already in university. My fascination with Europe led me to complete a Masters degree in the UK in European Renaissance Art History, which I also taught when I returned to the US. Promotion led me to become the Vice Principal (assistant director) to several high schools in California – some as large as 3400 students! It meant less time for what I love – travel. A few personal crises reminded me of the importance of living a lifestyle that is balanced, and living your dream. So two years ago I quit my job, packed up and moved to Amsterdam – a city where I had visited family and had fallen in love with.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I started blogging over a year ago. I love to write. I was writing long emails to family and friends several times a week – and found that the writing was helping me stay connected with friends back in the US, but also helped me to process the many changes of living in a different country, which I had discovered through my family and own moving experiences is a crucial part of assimilation. I decided to start a blog so it can be interactive for my friends and family and so I can do it all in ONE place.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

Tell us about the ways your new life in Amsterdam differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

No matter how ‘similar’ a place is to where you come from… it is still different. Add to that different language, way of life, ways of doing… it’s definitely a shock. And a shock that you sometimes don’t even realize you are experiencing because you are already SO overwhelmed with the process! Anywhere from missing the small things that were easy to come by in your former hometown, to the cost of dry cleaning, to the difficulties of opening a bank account…

A few blog entries address this directly:

The only way you get through it is with time, opening yourself up to new ways and not trying to ‘build’ your old life and habits in the new environment. Do what the locals do! Eat what the locals eat! It’s also part of what makes the experience of being an expat fun!

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Amsterdam? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

No – there was a lot more differences in way of life and how people think than I anticipated. I am still encountering daily things that surprise me – from people’s attitudes, to outlook on things, to what’s available in a store.

Knowing that, I would have not been so arrogant about already having been an expat in two different countries, I should have realized that each experience is unique and to be open to learning from the start. Don’t assume you know what life in a place is like just because of a couple visits or a couple of guide books!

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

One of the difficult things is language – when we moved from South Africa to the USA everything shifted from Afrikaans to English. Luckily we spoke that, but it was not our first language. And then from USA to the UK was all the same wavelength except with some slight differences. To go from English to DUTCH – once described to me as an ‘impenetrable language’ – was tough! Even with the support of Afrikaans to help!

Sometimes the Afrikaans background HURT more than it helped. Because there’s similarity between the two languages I didn’t think I needed language courses when I first arrived. I figured I’d be OK!

That was until one day I had dinner with new friends – including their 80-year old parents! They were asking me about life in the Netherlands and how I was doing post-job quitting, post-move, post-divorce. I told them I am doing great! (All, in ‘Dutch’ by the way!) That I really love meeting new people here, that I enjoy the way of life here, that I feel at home here. I even let slip that I met a guy and he was coming over for dinner.

“Ik ben heel opgewonde!” I said. Which means in Afrikaans – I’m excited about this!

But in Dutch, I’d just told my friends and their 80-year old parents that I was feeling frisky!

Needless to say – I signed up for Dutch lessons the next day!

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Amsterdam?

  • Understand your money situation well – where will your income be coming from, how will you access it, how do the banks work. (A lot of the Netherlands is still all cash! A shock for the California girl who was used to paying for everything on a credit card.)
  • KNOW THE WEATHER – life here is amazing, but the weather is tough to adjust to. If you are coming from warmer, sunny climates, realize that you will be hit with seasonal variations in mood and plan for it! Make sure you get to sunny climates when you can. It seems silly, but it is a fact of life here. The weather is NOT just small talk!
  • Do as the locals do. Don’t plan to bring your furniture, clothes, stuff from your other country unless you really must or unless they are valuable for intrinsic reasons. Your big couch from your California house is NOT going work here. Your closet full of sandals and t-shirts, are not going to work here. Allow yourself to assimilate in every possible way. That includes taking the time to learn the language!

How is the expat community in Amsterdam? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

Expat community in Amsterdam especially is really active and open. You can quickly access them through churches, English-language bookstores, or online resources such as www.meetup.com. Amsterdam has a very high percentage of expats from all over the world and all sorts of backgrounds – which is great and makes the city so vibrant. In other Dutch cities it is less so, but still easy to connect. And besides, the country is so small it’s easy to come to Amsterdam once a month for the expat book club!

Depending on your plans though, think about branching out from the comfort zone of hanging with expats. By making friends with locals (or even with expats who hail from other countries than you yourself) you will learn more about local customs and ways, and practice the language more! It will help you feel at ‘home’ as well.

How would you summarize your expat life in Amsterdam in a single, catchy sentence?

Going Dutch… it takes one bite of cheese at a time!

Salil Padmanabh

"At the InterNations events here in Amsterdam, I've come to know so many friendly expats. Both Indians and expatriates from other countries. "

Isabella Martinez

"For my little daughter I've been looking for a good language teacher who also speaks Spanish. I've finally found him on InterNations."

Global Expat Guide