I use “celebrating” as a loose term here. It’s more of a congratulations on our survival and the fact that while we had one slightly maimed this year, no one died and for that we raise a toast. This past year was bad. Like record books kind of bad. In fact, I pretty much had to be dragged kicking and screaming back to the Netherlands. I just didn’t want to go back.
But I made it. Not only back to the Netherlands, but through the first year. We arrived back, a month ago, ironically, on our one year anniversary here. And we were welcomed to around 55F temps and rain. Exactly like last year. I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come! Though we’ve technically been back almost 4 weeks now and Josh hasn’t broken or dislocated any bones so I feel we’re on a better track already 😉
The first year was hard – in a way I never expected. I think because we had already lived abroad for almost 5 years, I thought I’d be able to fast track through the culture shock part of the process. But I was wrong – boy was I wrong!! Every culture is so vastly different and while certain things were easier because we’d done “this” before, others were incredibly difficult in ways I never would have imagined.
While there wasn’t one particular thing that made life so hard here, I can point out a few glaring problems we had that got us off to a bad start in our first year here.
- The horrible weather: It’s true what they say about weather in northern Europe. It sucks. I’m not sure why people voluntarily live in these places or why corporations don’t relocate to somewhere with more sun??? But arriving in mid August to rain and 50 degree temps is not my idea of a good time. Nor is putting the heat on in August and not shutting it off again until… June!! And let’s not forget how dark, cold and bleak the winters are with the sun not coming up til around 9AM and going down by 4 and not a whole lot of sunshine in between.
- Having to call an ambulance on day 2: I think this was the biggest issue we faced this past year as it essentially took up our first 6 months here. In fact, I actually consider us to have only been truly living here for about 6 months because we didn’t actually start living until Josh was recovered from his horrific fall until around January. There’s no better way to start off your life in a new country than a dislocated knee, surgery (2 months later) and the resulting recovery.
- Issues related to school: I’m still not totally prepared to discuss this one in detail but know that it does not relate to the school that the boys attended last year and it was an issue that started in November and that we are still dealing with today in September, 10 months later. The good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel but the bad news is that it caused a lot of stress, anxiety and hatred for the school system here that only added to how I have felt about our first year.
- A non existent social life: Maybe I was just spoiled in Barcelona with an amazing social life. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was more social there than I ever was in the US. But it became a part of who I am and I’m not sure if it’s living in the ‘burbs, the lack of social interest by other parents at school, fewer expats (of our age) in Josh’s office or perhaps just less opportunity, but our social life here has been essentially non existent. A year in and I have yet to even have a girls’ night out. Working from home, where I’m already in solitude the majority of the day, means that I crave some kind of social interaction at least once or twice a week and that was near impossible here until fairly recently and even now, it’s still a bit iffy – maybe it’s just that I’ve accepted it at this point and it’s become my “normal” now.
- With a lack of social life, Josh’s dislocated knee knocking him out of commission, school issues and general shitty weather, came a depression like nothing I’ve ever experienced before in my life. Getting through the year in this frame of mind is something I don’t ever wish to experience again. In addition, likely a result of my depression, I also gained a ton of weight which only added insult to injury on an already shitty year.
Could it also be that life here reminds me of many of the things I don’t like at home? That concerns me for a variety of reasons but mostly because… I want to go back home. Or do I? If the Netherlands reminds me of the things I don’t like, do I really want to go back to that life? I often joke that the Netherlands is my transition country in between Barcelona and back to the States – could it be that it’s also a reminder of the things I don’t like? Things like traffic, tons of rules and regulations, crappy weather, flavorless food and an expensive cost of living are all reminders.
However, sometimes things need to be really bad before you can appreciate the good things. And not everything is bad here. If it was, we would have been gone long ago. Things took a turn for the better in the spring. The sun came out (occasionally), the days became longer, we had visitors, and I started to make some friends. It’s been a long, slow process, but things are (oh so slowly) starting to come together. And while I don’t have that warm, fuzzy feeling that I did in Barcelona, I do feel that things are starting to improve. Progress. The word “like” doesn’t yet come to mind, but hopefully in time, I’ll get there. I suppose the fact that it’s pouring rain as I write this doesn’t really motivate me to want to write “like” either…
However, while I point out all the negatives to life here, I’d also like to note that this is primarily me that feels this way. Josh and the kids are doing great. That’s not to say that there haven’t been lots of bumps along the way, but it seems to be me that’s having the toughest time with adjusting to life here. The kids would certainly prefer to be in Barcelona (who wouldn’t?) but are overall happy. Josh absolutely loves his job and adjusts easily to life just about anywhere – I’m incredibly envious of his flexibility!
On to those positives… Like I said, it can’t be all bad or we would have turned tail and fled a long time ago. It’s been rough, yes, but there have been aspects that I’ve enjoyed as well. However, admittedly it was tough coming up with those top 5 things I like – again, perhaps with more time, less emergency room visits and more sunshine, this list will grow 🙂 If you can think of others, I’m always open to hear other positive features that maybe I forgot or didn’t know about…
- Communication: While I don’t speak Dutch, I find that I could read it a whole lot faster than I learned how to read Spanish. Most people speak English here so while I’m working on my Dutch, it’s not a necessity in order to get things done like doctor’s appointments (of which we’ve had way too many this year), leasing a car, asking directions or just general questions or anyone in a crowd. This has made life infinitely easier and I can’t imagine going thru what we did last year and not being able to communicate too.
- The weather: How can this be both a pro and con?? So the weather in general sucks here. However, similar to New England, if you wait 5 minutes, the weather will change. Actually scratch that – wait 30 seconds. Regardless, you could have all 4 seasons in one day. This makes for very interesting and beautiful skies – some of the most beautiful skies I’ve seen have been here. Not to mention the fairly regular sighting of rainbows with all that rain. They never get old. I’d also like to note that while we also lose the leaves off the trees here like at home, not everything dies, specifically the grass. Because the temps just hover around freezing, the grass survives and so winter has a touch of green during an otherwise bleak few (few?????) months.
- One grocery store: While part of me misses going to several stores in Barcelona, the part of me that likes to be efficient (especially since the kids’ schedules have cost me several hours a day in productivity), really likes that I can just drive over to the local Albert Heijn and get whatever groceries I need. That doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally go to the butcher or cheese shop too, but we don’t need to.
- Access to more than we had in Spain: While this certainly isn’t the USA, it definitely isn’t Spain either. It’s somewhere in between. With more commercialism than we’ve seen in the last 5 years, it’s still way less than at home. But that being said, we also have access to more American (and not just American) products than we did in Spain or really just access to more products in general with a greater variety of stores.
- Easy to drive and explore new places: The Netherlands is only about as big as Maryland. And while we didn’t do much exploring our first 6 months, we are starting to do more and more on the weekends in an attempt to get out of the house and get to know our new homeland better. And it’s not that hard when you don’t have far to drive!
- Closer flight to home: This one probably shouldn’t count but I’m having trouble coming up with those pros. Getting home on ONE 7 hour flight as opposed to a 2 hour flight, a 3 hour layover and THEN the 7 hour flight was absolutely magical this summer. Sure we’re still in the same time zone, but when traveling alone with kids (or even without kids), it’s nice to chop off that extra 5 hours of travel.
Year two is off to an interesting start. It’s better than year 1, but still not at the level year 2 was for Spain. And yet in a sense, I’m ahead of the game – I feel like I have a confidence in my ability to handle just about anything in year 2 that I didn’t have in Spain at that time – perhaps it was all the crap thrown at me last year that has me ready for just about anything this year.
Sometimes I feel like perhaps I’m seeing Spain with rose colored glasses because the last few years were so good, but I do recall the tough times too and those times were nothing like what we had here in the Netherlands last year. Yes, they were very hard, but for different reasons – leaving our families for the first time, language barriers, and adjusting to a new culture for the first time. But this past year here was filled with other very difficult challenges – very different from what we faced in Barcelona, but difficult and emotionally exhausting nonetheless.
I’m doing my best to keep a positive attitude for the start of this year. I’m already making changes and trying to make this year a better year despite my feelings of life here compared to the quality of our life in Spain. Josh gave me a photography class for Mother’s day which just started last week. I started taking yoga for the first time in the hope that I will not only work on myself physically, but also my mental well being. I’ve joined the PSG / PTA at Aidan’s school – something that has never been my cup of tea but feeling that I need to try to make changes in different areas of my life, so why not – and I’d like to see changes happen at his school and as we’ve always taught the kids, you can’t expect others to change things if you aren’t will to contribute to those changes. All I can do is take things one day at a time and hope that, like Spain, things will get better with time.
Sometimes acceptance is the only way to move forward. This is our life right now and I can either accept it and make the best of it or let it destroy me. I’m going with the former and I’m ready to take on year 2 with a more positive attitude and the hopes that someday, like with Barcelona, I’ll be able to say I love it here…
Knuffels en kussen,