08 March, 2011

Before and After - an Expat Meme

I recently joined the Insego expat group online, and am only just beginning to pay attention and become a little bit active.  I mostly use the site as a wonderful resource as there are many excellent and relevant posts from others in my exact same situation.  It’s great to know that I’m not alone! 
One such post via Insego is from a fantastic blog A Touch of Dutch, that I thoroughly recommend you read.  Isabella has created a series of questions a couple of years ago now related to impressions of the Netherlands before and after becoming an expat in the Netherlands (or wherever you may be or if you have ever been an expat).  Please feel free to copy and paste this and share on your own blog, and it would be wonderful if you would share in the comments here (and I’ve linked this to the original blog).


Before you knew you'd be coming to the Netherlands, for whatever reason you originally came to the Netherlands, truthfully how much did you know about the country? 
Not a great deal, I must be honest.  I knew how to say “Proost” from my tour guide days, but I knew nothing of the culture (aside from the prostitution and drug laws) and when I was very young I honestly thought that the dykes were huge concrete walls.  I knew it was very flat, and the home of windmills.  My mum collects Delft Blue ceramics, so that’s one thing I knew a bit about.

Did you learn about the Netherlands in school when you were growing up?  
Not that I remember.  We did learn about different countries obviously, but nothing stands out.  I learned that it was Abel Tasman who first discovered Tasmania and went on to discover New Zealand.  We learned more about Australia, and I always knew a lot about British and American history (British because I’m fascinated by it and American because we can’t help but learn about it through popular culture).  I knew more about the VOC than anything else from reading Wilbur Smith books based on the Seven Years War!

Do you have family who is Dutch or Dutch heritage?
Not directly.  My mother’s first cousin married a Dutch man (at least his parents were Dutch), but I couldn’t tell you where in the Netherlands they came from.

Were you aware the language the Dutch spoke was Dutch and not German or any other language? 

Had you ever lived outside of your home country for longer than one month prior to living in the Netherlands?  
Yes.  After I finished school I spent time in Malaysia on a student exchange program.  It really gave me the bug and all I wanted to do once I came home was travel.  In 2003 I spent 7 months working in New Zealand, and then in 2006 I went to England for about 12 months, then on to Scotland for another year, and then moved to the Netherlands.  Initially I had only intended to be away for 12 months as I had big plans to go back to tour guiding on the west coast of Australia.  Still haven’t made it...

Had you learned to speak any other language than your own, even if only partially so, before coming to the Netherlands?  
I studied French at school, but can’t remember much.  I learned quite a bit of Malay while I was living in Malaysia.  And then because it is quite a similar language to Malay, I came home and studied Indonesian at university.  My skills are rusty at best and non-existent at worst though these days!

When you learned you'd be coming to the Netherlands, did you feel it was important to learn Dutch?  
I know the answer you want to hear is yes!  Absolutely!  The single most important thing ever!  But actually that wasn’t the case at all.  I never had a concrete plan to live in the Netherlands long term (still don’t), so only really intended to learn enough to get by (shopping, eating out etc).  Due to the nature of my visa I was called up for the compulsory integration (Inburgering Cursus), and although it was tedious to begin with and I was resentful of being forced into it, I’m glad I did the course.  I can now confidently go about my daily life without having to hide behind my lack of language skills.

Did anyone prepare you with information of any type before you came to live in the Netherlands, did you attempt to find information on your own, or did you come to the Netherlands without preparing?  
Let’s just say that before I came here I could probably have sprouted the contents of the IND website on command.  I knew everything possible about the visa process.  I picked up the “Laura Speaks Dutch” podcast from iTunes (highly recommended for a bit of pre-arrival study), and I came back and forth for several visits so I was somewhat prepared.

How did your friends and family react when they learned you'd be moving to the Netherlands?  
They were very supportive.  I’m sure my parents were thinking that I would never come home, and if they were upset with my decision they never held it against me.  Most friends were very supportive as well, but a couple were a bit miffed that I was extending my time abroad even further.

What did you think would be your biggest challenge living in a foreign country? Or did you feel you would face any big challenges?  
I didn’t think I would have any problems adapting to the culture, as it wasn't the first time I'd moved to a new country, and I wasn’t too scared about the language issue as I wasn’t planning to stay forever.  Strangely enough, the biggest challenge I thought I would face was that the cars are on the other side of the road!  I never thought I would be able to get my head around it, but now it’s quite normal for me.  And I have loads of problems adapting to the culture...

And after:
Upon arriving, can you remember the overall impression you had in the first 48 hours?  
I couldn’t believe I had done it!  I was so happy to be with my boyfriend.  I didn’t have much time to reflect though, because we were off to a festival within a couple of days of my arrival!  I do remember the stress of the drama from the IND and at that point I had nowhere to turn to get information.  This is before I discovered sites like Insego and Expatica!

Tell me about your bicycle, if you have one. Is it borrowed/rented or do you own it? And how often do you use it weekly?  
I use by bike everyday to cycle to and from work.  It’s about 8km each way and I only take the bus when the weather is just absolutely appalling (windy and raining or very icy).  I’ve had more flat tyres than I care to remember – there is a wonderful habit here of dropping glass bottles on the ground.  I’m so pleased to have a bike to ride.  It’s lovely getting out and about and we sometimes just go for a bike ride at the weekend.
Name three of your favourite things about the Dutch culture which first come to mind:  
Food -  I know that many people complain about the boring food here in the Netherlands, but I really enjoy a plate of boerenkool and rookworst.   Carnaval – It’s fantastic to see people who might otherwise be a bit uptight during the rest of the year letting loose and getting dressed up to celebrate.  Art – the Netherlands has such a rich art culture, and works of the old masters are easily accessible, which I love.

Of the things you never knew before coming here, what have you learned about the Netherlands?
The Dutch people are a lot different at home to when they are abroad.  And the traffic is horrendous!

Culture shock. Does this ring a bell? [Not sure what culture shock is? Click here to learn more.]
  Oh absolutely.  Using the link as a guide, I think I swing between the Adjustment Phase and then will regress to the Negotiation Phase at times.  I would like to think I’ll make it to the Mastery Phase, but I don’t know if I ever will.  Some of the cultural differences just make me so angry that I don’t see myself coming to terms with them, but one can hope!

How far have you come with learning Dutch?  
I’ve come a long way with learning Dutch.  In the last twelve months I have gone from pigeon Dutch to being able to attend appointments and go out for dinner with friends and participate in the general conversation without spending long periods staring at my hands.  I still do doctor’s appointments and hair appointments in English, mostly because my vocab hasn’t extended that far yet.  I have a wonderful hairdresser that I trust immensely, so I think I might start talking to her in Dutch next time I go to see her.

What was/is your overall impression of the inburgering [integration] program?  
It’s a bureaucratic nightmare.  There is minimal information available to people like myself who have little or no language skills to start with, and it’s not until I started the course that I could find info, or even know what to look for.  There’s no indication when you arrive that the nature of the visa will mean taking the courses – I only found out about it through the Expatica website!  Hence the birth of this blog.

Has your view on politics or world issues changed from how you previously viewed things before living in the Netherlands?  
The rise of Geert Wilders has probably pushed me further to the left than I would normally have been politically, but I don’t think my views of the world have changed since moving here.

Coffeeshops and smartshops. What is your opinion?  
Take it or leave it.  Not interested.  Actually, I would be happy if coffeeshops were abolished.

Since living here, have you learned anything new about yourself? Or perhaps have you learned anything else new? A new hobby or a new way of life?
I’ve learnt that my tolerance levels know no bounds.  I also work in IT now, a profession that I never ever considered myself suitable for.  Actually, I quite enjoy it.  I don’t have to talk to customers all day, which makes me very, very happy.


Unknown said...

Interesting Meme! I can relate to your experience a lot, minus the bike riding and the nightmare experience with the Inburgering.
Thanks for sharing!

Invader_Stu said...

Cool Meme. You knew a lot more about Holland before you got here then me. Looking back I now realize I knew sod all. I did not even know if they could or wanted to speak English.

Karen said...

Hi there! Such an interesting blog! I'll be back to visit for sure :)

Louise said...

Love your blog! Wow - this is certainly fascinating! Now following :).
(Louise, aged 15 off MM).

What we are talking about

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...