An Expat’s Guide to the Netherlands

March 9, 2018
  Two photosMoving abroad is one of the most challenging experiences that you could ever face. I knew well in advance that I was moving to the Netherlands, and I rehearsed (logistically and psychologically) more than an orchestra director would to prepare for a premiere at the Musikverein concert hall in Vienna. But the moment that my flight landed at Schiphol, bump!, I realised how different the reality was from my expectations. I’m not only talking about the Dutch language, and this is by no means me complaining about the Netherlands, it is just that when you arrive here, your life restarts from zero.

First days

Naturally, no one is waiting for you at arrivals, but no one is waiting for you anywhere else either! You are the umpteenth expat to arrive, to be re-educated for Dutch society, and for the first few days you won’t even have time to wonder ‘what’s this red lane?’ before a cyclist crashes into you while ringing his bike bell like he believes he is an ambulance. You will be fully dedicated to finding accommodation while continuing to fight with the Dutch language: you will see hundreds of rental agency websites which rely heavily on Google translate. Here, you will finally learn the most important Dutch word for an expat: makelaar. The makelaar will (maybe) help you to search for accommodation and after some months (yes, months!) you will finally find an apartment and you’ll be an expert of real estate language, with exotic words like fully furnished (i.e. there is at least a chair), and cosy (i.e. you are lucky that there is a tiled floor).

The Adjustment Phase

BikesFood will be the runner-up of your problems for some time. You will keep searching for products as if you were still at home. Then, one day you will find that brand of coffee or soft drink from your country, which maybe you never even drank before, but now you will promptly buy and go home celebrating like your favourite sporting team won the championship. In the meantime, you'll start to learn what the main brands are in the supermarket here and to recognise some typical products in the nearby shops.     You will buy a bike that will be a little bit tall for your height, but you will soon manage to manoeuvre it. You’ll find out that bike lanes are like highways: they can be jammed during peak hours but they can take you everywhere in the Netherlands. But no matter how long you live here, when retrieving your bike from parking, you will still wonder ‘where did I park?’.

The adaption phase

Time passes and you will find out that what you experienced is well known in Sociology, it’s Culture Shock. Finally, you are in your adaption phase, and you’ve probably found that nice café close to the channel where you can enjoy your Sunday pannekoeken. On weekends, the weather will always be an uncertainty. The sun is shining and the plan is to go explore the tulip fields, but a storm comes all of a sudden. Now you'll be better prepared. Get a weather app on your phone and protective waterproof clothing. You’ll end your weekend arriving home a little bit damp, but still chuckling when you think about all those tourists you saw with their umbrellas inverted by the wind. You will learn to keep an eye on seagulls, to protect your herring sandwich, and you will find out what the Amsterdam zone for tourists is (to be highly avoided). And finally, one day, the most incredible thing will happen: you will spend some time in the Netherlands where you now call home, and you will decide to enrol in a Dutch language school, like Kickstart School, as I did…

Elena Cumpana, Student, woman, but first of all traveller…