This week we “celebrated” 6 months since the kids and I arrived in the Netherlands. Josh, having been commuting for the 9 months prior was obviously more at home by the time we arrived. But as a family, the Netherlands has been our home for 6 months now. It feels like more. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Good in the sense that I feel comfortable and that we are getting into a “normal” kind of groove and routine that one can only have when you are home. Bad because I think, god, it’s only been 6 months?????
I won’t sugar coat things – it’s been a tough six months. We’ve had our ups and downs and my hope is that there have been a lot more positives than negatives, but the transition has been incredibly hard for Aidan and I most of all. For some reason I thought that since we had done this expat thing before, that the move would be easier and in a sense it has been. But it’s been a lot harder emotionally than I expected and I still can’t explain why. I remember having a lot of ups and downs in Barcelona during the first 6 months but I don’t remember the downs being so far down as mine have been here. And I feel like I snapped out of things a whole lot faster in Barcelona than here, where I still have days where I’m just sad for no particular reason.
Maybe it’s because in Barcelona, the weather was beautiful (though not those first 2 months) and we could be outside more. Maybe it’s because Liam was home with me for the first 9 months and having someone to care for besides myself during the greater part of the day was a good distraction. I have no idea. But here, I just feel really, really lonely. It’s something I need to become more proactive about and hopefully now that spring is here, it will motivate me to get out of this house and get social!
I’m always amazed that the people who are able to transition to another country like it’s no big deal. There were a number of people like this when we lived in Barcelona. Is it just their mindset? Is it because they know that it’s temporary or permanent and so therefore just learn to go with the flow? Is it because it was a lifestyle choice rather than a work choice? How is it that they are able to just jump right in and be a part of the community like they’ve always lived somewhere? What is the trick and how do I learn how to do this? I will say that even though the last 6 months have been hard, I do feel like I jumped in here more quickly than I did in Barcelona, but I still didn’t have that “at home” kind of feeling that I envied of those who have, at least appeared to, transitioned so easily.
Josh is one of those people. Maybe it’s because he’s never fully immersed into the life of a country since he’s in an English speaking office 12 hours a day. But even regardless of that, he is able to adjust to the culture of the office which is decidedly not American. He is like a chameleon, able to change his colors based on need. I admire him for this ability to jump right into a new culture like it’s no different than anything he grew up with or spent most of his life experiencing. This is such an asset as an employee as he is culturally sensitive and able to adjust on the drop of a dime. He is incredibly happy here not just in his job but in our lives.
Beyond life at the office though, we got off to a rough start with Josh’s knee being dislocated on day 2. It was the elephant in the room the first 4+ months of our time here and really it’s only been in the last 2 months that we’ve been able to start exploring and doing more as a family as his mobility has improved. So we’re a little behind where I think we’d like to be as far as getting to know our new home, but now trying actively to make up for lost time. It helps that the nicer weather is starting to peak through a little bit – a nice motivator to get out and explore.
And I feel that we are more willing to explore. Is it because Spain is so big that it’s a bit daunting? Because I’ve already got a huge list of places I want to visit here in the Netherlands. Maybe it’s because it’s so easily drivable. Maybe it’s because most people also speak our language? Or maybe it’s because this is our second time around and we are just willing to jump in and take more chances. Though we didn’t have a car our first three years in Barcelona, so it was harder to be spontaneous with exploring since we had to go through the process of a car rental, etc. Regardless, in hindsight, I now wish that we had spent more time exploring bits of Spain as well. We’ll just have to go back and do it 😉
I know the kids would go back to Spain in a heartbeat. The kids have done well in the last 6 months. Both have had their struggles, primarily socially, but as we all know, friendships take time. For Aidan, he misses his home in Barcelona so much and his friends there. He is having a tough time here because his grade is so small – only 15 kids in his entire GRADE and he’s not connecting with many of them. It’s almost a beggars can’t be choosers kind of scenario, when you only have 15 kids in your class, you don’t have a lot of choice in who you connect with. And that has been hard on him but I see that slowly things are changing and he’s realizing that you can have one thing in common with one person and a totally different thing in common with another person and that’s ok. You don’t have to have everything in common with everyone.
Liam is also having his struggles, both social and academic. But overall, he is our go with the flow kid when it comes to this kind of stuff (and only this – otherwise he is an incredibly rigid kid). He misses his friends in Spain terribly but stays in touch and gets that they are still his friends even though we moved. And he’s made a few connections here but is still working on building those friendships into something more solid. He likes where we live and for the most part likes the Netherlands.
However, overall, the kids are doing well. There are times when it feels like we’ve always lived here. They know all the names to the shops we frequent and where to get “xyz” items. They know the parks they enjoy and all the fun places we frequent. They’ve picked up little bits of Dutch – very little (the school is horrible about teaching Dutch which is a shame) but enough that a few of their Spanish words have now been replaced with Dutch ones in daily conversation. Essentially, they get it. They get what it means to live in another new country and the nuances that come with learning a new culture, new language, etc. What’s interesting is that it’s just “normal” for them. It’s just the way the majority of their lives have been. A good example being when we were in Barcelona, I said to Aidan, “You know, we need to find a small, walkable city to live in that has a great climate like this one but speaks our language.” His response, “Why does the language matter? Just learn the language.” My response, of course, was that it wasn’t quite that simple and that the last 5 years have been incredibly challenging living in another language. But in the end, I was super proud of his response and how open minded it was.
And the language here is in a sense easier than it was in Spain. Even with a little background in Spanish before we went to Barcelona, the language was still incredibly intimidating. This time the language isn’t as scary. Perhaps it’s because we know that 90% of the people here also speak English? Or it might be that Dutch is a Germanic language like English and so we are able to decode the words easier than we could in Spanish. Or could it even be that because we’ve lived in another country, we’ve learned the tools on how to decode the words and figure out what things mean, like a puzzle, in order to survive? I feel like that one is the most likely – our brains are now trained to unlock these “codes” in order for us to be able to piece together the meanings behind things. It has certainly made us more open minded to new languages. The kids and I are both in Dutch classes – mine I think is going better than theirs as the school’s Dutch program is a joke. But we’ll get there. And as we don’t need it for survival in the same way we needed Spanish, there is no rush.
But I digress, I was talking about how everyone is adjusting. So the kids are doing decently. Better than can be expected, but certainly facing a few struggles here or there. We’ve moved to the suburbs and that has been a challenge for us socially. We love our neighborhood but so far while everyone has been friendly, they have not really extended themselves much towards us. Or maybe we haven’t done a good job of extending ourselves? It’s certainly a possibility. The kids here don’t speak English at the boys’ ages (they are a little older when they start to learn English) and with them having very little Dutch, they have not been included with the local kids in anything going on in the neighborhood. In fact, Aidan has been shunned a time or two. Though Liam has made one little buddy down the street and while neither can speak each other’s language, it hasn’t seemed to matter.
I asked the kids how they felt after 6 months. Liam’s response, “It’s epic. But it’s less epic than Barcelona.” Aidan’s was “It sucks. We have to drive everywhere.” That’s them in a nutshell. Simple, to the point and interesting perspectives. Aidan very obviously misses city life. Though I know he loves being able to go outside here whenever he likes and roam the neighborhood. Liam is definitely a city kid who now has to be forced to spend time with nature, though once he’s in it, he’s a happy kid.
My hope for the boys over the next 6 months is that their friendships start to solidify. And that with the warmer weather coming, that they are able to break the barrier in our neighborhood and befriend a few kids locally. I expect Aidan will start to spend more time at the skateboard park not far from our house and so hopefully he will meet kids that he has things in common with, for starters, skateboarding!
For myself, I’m still trying to find out who I want to be here. I know that sounds strange, but I look at moving as a chance to reinvent myself. Do I want to be social, reclusive, super mom, worker bee, stay at home mom/wife and so on and so on. I’ve been considering a career change and what better time to do that when starting out somewhere new. If only I knew what I wanted to be when I grow up. So I’ve been spending some of this alone time reflecting on that. I can’t say I’ve gotten anywhere with it yet and so continue on in my present career path (which is not a bad job!).
On the immersion side of things, I feel like we’ve been doing a decent job. While we haven’t immersed into the culture in a way that I would like, I feel like we jumped into our lives here as though we had always lived here. The kids were in sports within weeks of us moving here. I changed over my drivers license. We got a car. I tried to reach out and connect with parents at school (and while this is still a little bit of a struggle, I’m way further ahead here than I was at this point in Barcelona). I feel like fear hasn’t kept me back in the same way that it did in Spain. Though nor do I feel that I’m throwing myself into things in the same way that I would had I been back in the States where everything is familiar. But most definitely more so than we did in Spain.
For myself, what I’d like to see in the next 6 months. A better grasp of Dutch (working on it, but I can’t say that I love Dutch class). A decision regarding my career. Decisions regarding what our semi long term plan will be here. Three new friends (I’m not asking a lot here). For the kids to be happy. Happy kids will make a happy mom. Less rain and more sunshine. More positive thinking which is sometimes easier said than done. A concrete exercise routine because the way it’s going now is just not working. Stability in our lives. Social lives that extend beyond the 4 of us. Seriously the list could go on and on…
So in closing, my thoughts on the first six months. Sadly, the jury is still out. There are parts here that I love and parts that I hate. I’m hoping that the next 6 months will bring a better balance to the love / hate relationship that I have going with the Netherlands. If there is anything that I’ve learned in my 5 years as an expat is that only time will tell…