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american expat in holland

The Anniversary of My First Visit to The Netherlands.

Frites!

It seems rather apropos that the date of my initial interview to start the inburgering process is on the anniversary of my first landing at Schiphol, a year ago today. Almost six months to the day, I would land again, but this time to make The Netherlands my permanent home. I'm actually quite pleased with myself that I managed to save up enough to move in such a short time. 

When I first came to visit, there was a lot of pressure as to whether or not I could see myself making this country my home. I think The Verlo- who was just the boyfriend then was quite nervous. Luckily, my suspicions were confirmed and I fell in love immediately with the country. That first trip, we wandered around the streets of Amsterdam, went to Lisse,the Keukenhof,(and Keukenhof Kasteel) and hung around Utrecht. I ate a ton of frites and bami's. I met some people that are an integral part to The Verlos- life and most important, I got to hang out with the man I love and be amazed at the swirling dervish of bicycles.

Fast forward a year later and I am starting to really feel like I am making my way slowly but surely into my new life here in The Netherlands. I look to my interview today as the first step to becoming more a part of society here in The Netherlands. I just really wish I wasn't hacking up a lung every three minutes because I am sure that will make a grand impression on my contact! I'll be sure to let you guys all know how it went tomorrow. 

Any last minute tips on the interview? 

So much has changed in a year, including my hair! Egads, not my favorite look of mine. 

 

 

 

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On Friendship: Concrete vs Circumstantial

Above is Hayley, Christy, and Me! My besties since I was 11! 

Thoughts on friendship have been racking my brain lately! As an expat, friendships are an integral part of your life, but forming new ones can be a incredibly difficult and pressure filled. I think I might just turn this concept into a series this month. Today's topic: Concrete friends vs circumstantial ones. What I mean by that is, people who will always be in your life no matter the distance, and those people who are in your life for a bit because your circumstances match up but as soon as either of you has a life change, you never hear from them again.  

Some people just can't handle any sort of long distance relationships. In college, I was incredibly close to a girl and when I decided to move back to Atlanta, she never spoke to me again. No matter how hard I tried to stay in touch. Believe me I tried! It really hurt for a bit, but eventually I realized that, we were just friends because of the circumstance of both finding ourselves in a University town we both didn't really belong in.On the other hand, I have friends who have moved away, gotten married, and various other life changes that you go through in your 20's, but who I could call tomorrow and we would instantly fall back into the groove.  You don't necessarily have to talk to them every month, but you both know that no matter what you will always be in each other's lives. 

When I moved from The Netherlands, I had decently large group of friends back home. A lot of them were co-workers from my job, so they could have very easily become circumstantial friends who dropped me as soon as I was on the plane. I am glad to say that for most this isn't the case. This time, unlike one of the 11 times I've moved in the past, it feels like I really haven't lost anyone, yet. Sure, occasionally we miss our connections, but I have made a concerted effort and so have they to keep our friendships alive. Will it be the same in a year or three? Who's to say, but right now I feel incredibly blessed that my friends have been keeping tabs on me. I do make it pretty easy for them with this blog!

So, what makes this time different than all the others? I honestly think I was pickier about who I allowed to stay in my life. When you become an adult, hopefully you get over the idea that you need to be liked by everyone and you concentrate on finding people who like you for you. Stronger friendships when you start out means you are more likely to continue on with them.

However,now that making new friends is a whole different ballpark during my expat life, will I make more circumstantial friends out of necessity? I don't have an answer for you yet, but the next part in the friendship series will be about the challenges that face a newly arrived expat when it comes to making friends. 

Me and JT one of the first times we hung out

I love and miss all these ladies! 

I couldn't include all the ones I love, so if you aren't pictured it doesn't mean I love you any less! It probably just means that I don't have a picture of us, I was really a photo slacker the year before I moved! 

 

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The End of March Photo Challenge, What I've Learned, and What I Will be Doing Different in April

We are finally at the end of March. Which means that,  I have blogged every single day this month! During the process, I saw my blog traffic increase drastically, as well as the amount of interaction from you guys! It has been really fun to challenge myself to try and make all the photos somehow relate to my life as an expat. It spurred all sorts of "oh yeah, I should blog about this" moments. But, it also limited some of the topics that I wanted to talk about this month, because I didn't want to over post. I am also going to continue my daily blogging, but now about the topics I choose. So much is about to happen and I want to keep you guys in the loop!

I am still planning on participating daily in the April Photo Challenge from Fat Mum Slim, but I am going to make them all instagram photos and post them on twitter and facebook daily. I think every Sunday I will take the photos from the week and have a post on here. If a topic really resonates with the expat experience then I will go into more details and turn it into its very own post. 

So, without any further ado,  today's topic. Where I Relax

I decided to pick a picture of Utrecht. Even though I have only lived here 6 months and I don't speak Dutch very well yet, Utrecht feels like home to me. I love it here, and have no plans of reverting to my nomadic lifestyle. The Verlo-and I will probably stay in our apartment for at least the next four years. This is a huge step for someone who has moved eleven times since they turned 19. For those of you keeping track, that means I've changed homes on average every 6 months. But not anymore, I'm putting down some roots. 

Where feels like home to you? Let me know below! 

Don't forget to follow me on twitter

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Inburgering! I Got My Letter

For those of you who are non-expats, allow me to take a minute to first explain what Inburgering means here in The Netherlands. For those of you in The Netherlands, feel free to skip this paragraph! Basically, when you move to The Netherlands and are a non-EU citizen, you are required to take an exam. This exam is about both the Dutch language and living in society here. There are a lot of different tracks you can take, you can also opt to do a portfolio in place, or in addition to the exam. To prepare you for this, the Gemeente (think Province) will provide classes for you. According to the Utrecht Gemeente website, this can be anywhere from 2 to 4 times a week. According to most expat blogs I've read, the trend seems to be 3 lessons a week, 3 hours each time, for a year. You are required to go to at least 80% of these classes or you have to pay all the money back. I'll probably have more information on this after Monday.

Most people are called for their initial interview after living here a lot longer than I have. I actually volunteered to start early. (I'll hold a second for your gasps). While most expats I know try to avoid this like the plague, I wanted to go ahead and start as soon as possible for a multitude of reasons. First, it is really time intensive and I would rather do it now when I have the time to devote to studying. Secondly, I am in the process of applying for Universities here, so I want to get more of a part time job to work during the next four years that I am hopefully in school. Part-time positions are more likely to require a working knowledge of Nederlands. In addition, rumors are that in a few years inburgering will still be required but not necessarily financed, do it while it is free is my attitude. Finally, the cultural part is probably a lot more useful if you are brand new than if you have been in the country awhile. A lot of people complain about this part because you should know it after you have lived here for a bit. I tend to not pay attention in class to stuff I already know, so this is another safe guard I have for myself. 

When you read up about the process, almost everyone unanimously agrees that working with the Gemeente is one of the hard parts. There are a ton of stories of people being switched between different workers or not being contacted. I can already attest to this. I filled out the form to volunteer on March 1st, when I received an automatic email response telling me I would be emailed my initial appointment time in a max of two days. A week later and no such email, I called to see what was going on. After explaining my inquiry to three different people, I was told my information would be passed on to a colleague and hung up on. Last Friday, I called again and was informed that the office is closed on Fridays. Lovely! So, you can imagine my surprise when I got a letter in the mail yesterday telling me that my appointment is next Monday. Less than a week's notice! After my talk, I am required to take a placement test. I'm guessing I am still at the beginning level. Wish me luck! 

*Also, I would like to apologize in advance for the numerous amount of Inburgering posts that will probably take over my blog since the Inburgeringscursus is about to take over my life! 

Flickr photo by: COCOEN daily photos

 

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Saying Yes, New Friends, and a Video of Me!

Something that no amount of preparation is going to get you ready for is just how lonely your first months as an expat will be. With a language barrier and no built in way to make friends, it takes some serious effort to get over the “expat blues” .

That being said, I am a big fan of taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. After all, you never know what path will lead you where and the adventures you will have along the way. Recently, I was contacted by three groups of students studying journalism here in Utrecht. They had a class project and needed to interview an American living in Holland. I said yes to all three groups, but since two of them were in the same class, I could only help out two of the groups.

The first ones up were Sandy and Eefje. We met at 10am at Starbucks to discuss what kind of questions they would ask. At first, I was really nervous, what if they thought I was a dud?!? Luckily, both girls were super friendly and put me right at ease. We covered a lot of topics, anything from what I was doing in The Netherlands, to if I was keeping up with American politics. They even got a shot of me trying some haring. (I ordered it correctly in Nederlands, thank you very much). Unfortunately, I didn’t think to have them document the moment for my camera. We then walked all around the city, doing lots of shots of yours truly. It made me feel like a movie star and I think we all had fun.

I met group two Tuesday at the library. I had an equally amazing time with Robert and Marije. Again, I got to talk about myself, my impressions of The Netherlands, and American Politics. We got to hangout in the library and walk around Utrecht. I even got to see some parts of the city I don’t normally wander to in my weekly strolls. I also got to check out a cute cafe that gave out chocolate chip cookies with your coffee! *you get cookies most of the time when you order a coffee from a dutch shop, they are just not normally chocolate chip! Also, I didn’t take a picture of them, I am a failure of a blogger!

So, what did I gain from this experience? Besides, being able to be more candid about my political views. I have very strong opinions, but typically don’t express them because, you are going to vote for who you want and I will vote for who I want, you aren’t going to change my mind and I won’t change yours. Hopefully, I convinced them that most people in the USA are embarrassed by Rick Santorum’s blatant lies. I got to meet four people from my new country who are around my age and who seemed to like me too. Both experiences were some of the best days I have had here in Utrecht, and I think i can with confidence say I am on my way to making four new friends!

Long story short, if someone seeks you out to do something. DO IT, you will probably have fun! Below is the first groups video, group two hasn't shown their's to their class yet. Also, how epic is the guy's mustache in the back of the top photo? 

 

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The Hunt for Worcestershire Sauce

So, here is a rundown of what finding things I need here in Holland normally looks like: I’ll look around for a few weeks, can’t find it, and finally break down and tell my mom that I need it in my next care package. I wait a few more weeks, the item arrives, suddenly I see it all over Utrecht. This has happened more than enough times for there to be a distinctive pattern. I in turn, feel guilty that I made my mom send me something that is apparently readily available here.

I am determined not to let this pattern continue. Which is why, when I began craving Shepard’s Pie two weeks ago, after my Future Mother in Law made one of those one pot meals the Dutch are famous for. Dutch Ovens, anyone? I went on the hunt for one of the important ingredients to my Shepard’s Pie... Worcestershire Sauce. I looked high and low at both of my local supermarkets and found none. I even rode the bus to a Plus Supermarket in De Meern, just so I might be able to find it! And, because as of this week, the supermarket that is closest to me, a 30 minute round-trip walk vs. an hour is closed for remodeling.

I even went so far as to ask my expat buddies on twitter. Who seemed to think I was insane, because it is readily available to them. To make matters worse, every recipe I have looked at this week has called for it! So today, exasperated, I decided to get my butt on the bus and ride to the city center so I could look at the grocers there. Or at least, go to the expat store, and probably pay about 6.00 euros for it.

My first stop was the Albert Heijn attached to the Centraal Station. I figured this was a good bet because it is bigger than the stores in my neck of the woods. After searching and searching, I finally spotted the words: Lea & Perrins, glaring at me in an unfamiliar bottle on the top shelf. Upon further inspection, it did indeed say Worcestershire Sauce. I was temped to grab several bottles, but I just bought one. (Can’t justify the space in our barely there kitchen.) Now that I see it, I wonder if maybe my eyes were looking for the familiar label all along, instead of actually looking for the product itself. Maybe there isn’t a Leidsche Rijn conspiracy against me. Perhaps, I was just too blind to see what was staring at me for the last two weeks.

I guess the moral to this story is, even in a strange land you can find something if you want it bad enough, you just have to really open your eyes and look! Except, maybe skittles. Now, to use my new found treasure to make Hachee(Dutch Beef Stew) tonight. If it turns out well, I might just post the recipe up here. Now, if only I can learn to properly say Worcestershire Sauce, we will be in business!

11 Things I Love about My New Home After 3 Months.

I have been feeling a little down in the dumps ever since my mom left. It is not that I necessarily miss the States, it is just that I do miss my family and friends. To get over this, I decided to make one of my world famous lists. So, after a little over 3 months of living in The Netherlands, here is a small list of things I love about my new country.


1. I love public transportation. Sure, when we go to ikea, and buy something that is too small to justify the expense of having it delivered, I miss my car. But I like that I can get anywhere by bus or by train and maybe even a walk. Plus, trains haven’t lost their romance for me yet. I am not sure that they ever will. I blame Funny Face and Before Sunrise for this. Although, people with strollers on trains, but especially buses, still shock me. So,maybe a car before baby. And babies not for years.
Me and Mom on the train. 

2. Potatoes. If you are not a potato fan, I am not sure this is the country for you. Seriously, anyway you can think of to cook a potato, they do. Lately, I have been a huge fan of Hutspot- potatoes, carrots, and onions all smashed together. Think of when you were little and would mix your corn and potatoes together. It is like that but they do it with a ton of veggies. So yummy! And we won’t even mention the frites!  

3. No one looks at me like I am a freak when I drown things in Mayo. Seriously, in the States, I made a mayo hating friend puke once. I don’t remember this, but she assures me it happened. Sorry! But well,  I love it and so do the Dutch.

4. Pureed salads. This has to do with the whole mayo thing, but the Dutch tend to puree their meat to add to salads. So instead of chucks in Chicken Salad, you get something much more like a spread. I have been eating a ton of salmon salad with bacon sandwiches. Don’t knock it until you try it.

5. The merging. Growing up in Atlanta, we don’t know how to merge on the street let alone when we are walking. You would assume that the Dutch would stand in an orderly line when it is time to get on the train or bus. They don’t. They stand in a bug blob and merge to get on the bus. At first, I was all like “ hey, they are going to get on before me! and I’ve been standing here longer” but now, it is just something that is done and that works pretty well.

6. My museumkaart: Less than 50 euros a year and I can get in for free or almost free to over 100 museums around Holland. This is my card of Heaven! If you are planning on spending sometime in The Netherlands, you might want to pick one up as well.

7. The sky. You know when you look at one of the landscapes for The Dutch Golden Age and the sky just looks, so beautiful and the golden sunbeams are barely going through the clouds painting the building and landscape in a surreal light. Yeah, you probably don’t. I know, I know, art freak! Anyway, because it is so far North here, the sun is lower in the sky and the light is unique and I love it!

Delft

8. The Censorship or lack there of. I have been a rule stickler all my life. I wouldn’t even Jaywalk before I moved here. But something about censorship has always bugged the crap out of me. Something being banned for content has always pissed me off. Which is why if you slap an NC17 rating on something, I want to watch it. Or ban a book I instantly want to read it. Hey, we all have our small rebellions. Which is why here, where the F* bomb flows free on tv and the preview for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which is playing later on tv has Jason Segal’s towel dropping in all it’s hilarious glory, makes me insanely happy. No offense to Mr, Segal, who I love, but strange penises are always funny. Not that it is strange in that way, just that it is foreign as I have never seen it in real life. Anyway, it is just nudity, and I make the choice as to whether or not I want to see it. Movies are better not edited for TV. Also, it takes the responsibility for parenting kids off the tv channel and onto parents.

9. I love the city architecture. Loek and I live on the outskirts of Utrecht. But, I love the old city centers with their quaint little squares. I love that I never really feel helplessly lost even in Amsterdam ( Den Haag, yes) Amsterdam, no. I love the tall, skinny townhomes, and the narrow cobblestone streets. The hiden gardens and the open windows.

10. I love all the birds. When Loek came to visit the States, he made me come outside to look at the squirrels. He was so excited, you never see them here. Maybe they are in the woods, but not running around. Instead you get birds and bunnies. Although, seagulls are on my shit list, ever since one well...Shit on me!

11. Loek and Atti, of course, they make my life gezellig. Gezellig is my favorite Nederlands word. There is no English translation that does it justice. It is coming home to your family and having dinner be ready. Or spending the evening drinking beers in a cafe with friends. Or for me, curling up with a warm cup of Chocomel with Whipped Cream and a good book.

Loek and Atti. Don't mind the walls.

As strange as it is to be a stranger in a strange land, I feel at home here. Now if only I could master Nederlands enough to communicate at Loek’s parent’s parties!

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