When we decided to go on a year-long adventure living in the Netherlands and exploring Europe, I never thought two years later we would still be here. Moreover I didn’t think we would be truly thinking about staying for as long as we possibly could.
There has been so much that has happened in the last two years with us personally, with politics in America, with a virus world wide. These are uncertain times. They can be a bit scary. Are we happy that we are still here and not in the US? Yes and no. Yes, because we see how the virus is being handled and how some people are responding, we see the racial injustice, riots, people screaming help and no one listening, is so disheartening and feels so unsafe. This is not to say we do not love where we came from, because we do and we are grateful for it. No, because we miss our friends and family, and everyday we are here we feel further and further away from them. More disconnected with what is going on in their lives and the time difference makes it hard to connect sometimes.
So are we going to stay or go, that is the big question from our family and friends here and in the US. I do not, however, think there is an easy way to answer that question without first discussing somethings that I have learned from living here the last two years.
When you make a move like we did, you do all of the research. What are the schools like? Do I want my kid to go to a public dutch school or international school? What will it be like to make friends? How often will we go back to visit family and friends in America? What city should we choose to live in? Even deeper, what neighborhood should we choose in that city? How safe is it really?
You will find a million different answers for all of these questions. If I am being honest though, you will not find the answers you want or need until you are living it for yourself, because everyone’s journey is different.
So lets start with the first set of questions, schools. We knew from the beginning that we wanted Z to go to a public Dutch school. We wanted to immerse ourselves in the culture as much as possible. Which means Z immersing himself as well. I loved the idea of Z learning Dutch and I knew that international school would not provide that for him the way a public school would. I should also state that public schools here are on par with private schools in the states, we pay 45 euro a year for this. I will just let that sink in… Z is thriving and can hold a conversation with just about anyone in Dutch.
What city and neighborhood? We looked at three different cities. Haarlem, Maastricht, and Utrecht. We ultimately landed on Utrecht because of the distance to the airport, cost of living and how family friendly it was. Not to say the other places are not family friendly, we just felt Utrecht was the best place for us. That was the easy part, deciding what neighborhood was the tough one. With all of the research it was clear that for expats Wittevrowen and Leidsche Rijn were the most desirable.
We however did not end up in one of these because the demand for housing is so high. We live in the Zuilen area. If I am being honest in the first year we wanted to move, not because we did not like our house, because we love it. Zuilen is a pretty Dutch neighborhood and about a fifteen minute bike ride from the center, which is not bad unless it is pouring rain, this happens frequently in the Netherlands. While there are tons of play grounds there are not many restaurants. Also our expat friends at the time lived in the other two areas, which made it more appealing.
Back to Zuilen being a Dutch neighborhood, this also ties in with the question of how is it making friends? See we were told it was almost impossible to make friends with the Dutch. There are many reasons given for this, some say they are not very friendly, some say it is because they are very close knit and they do not welcome many new people in their friend groups. After two years of living here I have learned that is completely false.
See, it is so easy to get stuck in the expat mentality. Meet like minded people, not necessarily from the same background and culture, but people who are also experiencing the same life changes as you, and hook together and stay that way. What I have learned is that just because you are experiencing the same life changes does not mean you are supposed to be friends, or that sometimes friendships fall apart.
This is not to say do not make expat friends. We have wonderful friends who are expats and cherish those friendships dearly. Do not limit yourself to just that, because when you open yourself up, you may just realize that the Dutch are not only extremely friendly, but welcoming. In our case, our friends from surrounding cities and neighbors and have become some of the best friends we have ever had. Friends that reassure you, that show up at your house with a homemade red velvet cake (even though they have no idea what that is) on your birthday. Friends that are amazing at bbq’s and always there for a late night chat, laugh and good bottle of wine. The thought of moving out our neighborhood now, is in itself scary.
How often will we be able to get back to visit friends and family in the US? Well at first we were not, because we were only going to be here for a year. Since we have decided to extend, we we’ve considered once a year. Unfortunately Covid threw a wrench in that plan this year. Honestly I don’t know what it would be like without technology. We are able to face-time with our parents, which is very important and special for Z. We have zoom calls with our friends for birthdays. We even got to ¨attend” one of my best friends’ weddings via zoom. There are always ways to connect and many friends have even made trip over to visit and travel with us. Which has been so very special.
How safe it is? Well as I am writing this at the picnic table in our front yard, Z is at the playground with friends, Rob is in his office working. Would we let him do this in the states, that’s a hard no. Z can even ride his bike around with his friends. When we discuss how quickly a kid can be kidnapped our friends here are completely shocked. I can walk home alone after a night out with no worries. The thing we have to worry about the most is our bicycles getting stolen, which hasn’t happen yet!
So back to the question will we stay or go? For now, we are renewing our visa, and will be here continuing our European adventures, watching Z thrive, where we feel safe. How long will we be here? I can’t answer that. I do not know the future. What I do know is while we miss our friends and family, we are so happy and we aren’t finished with this adventure just yet.
Stay tuned for more adventures of Rob, Z and I…
“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure” – William Feather