american expat in the netherlands

Birthday's are Strange Creatures

Sure, when you live abroad, your day to day life is challenging at first, but eventually it becomes part of your routine. You forget about the little things that make your daily life different than back at home. For me, the oh my gosh I live in  a different culture are most apparent when it is time for celebrations. 

Each culture has its own way of celebrating times in one's life. With my birthday coming up this Wednesday, I thought I would take the time to share with you some traditional Dutch birthday customs and how they drastically differ from the one's I grew up with. 

Let's start with the overall attitude. Back home, being the birthday girl made you special. People would make you the breakfast you want, take you out to lunch and dinner. Heck some restaurants even give you a free meal or some cake. In the Netherlands, this is not the case. Being the birthday girl means that you invite people over to your house and make sure you are the perfect host. There is no taking it easy because you are the birthday girl. Oh and if you go out for drinks, guess who is picking up the tab for everyone? Yep, that would be you birthday girl. According to the Verlo, it is actually only the first round you are expected to buy, but still!

Although they are less popular with younger generations, Dutch circle parties are still the thing with older generations. During these parties, all the chair are arranged in a circle. When you enter, you must go around the circle and say, "gefeliciteerd met jouw (insert relationship that the person has to the person who is celebrating their birthday) verjaardag, for example gefeliciteerd met jouw dochter's verjaardag. This translates to congratulations with your daughter's birthday- which makes sense, as the parents are responsible for this day. What doesn't make sense is congratulations with your cousin's, boyfriend's, friend's or co-worker's birthday. Also, make sure you make it all the way around the circle. 

The birthday person is also responsible for bringing their own cake into the office. Well actually, you bring your own vlaai. Which is can be either extremely pie like, or can be like a mix between a cake and a pie. I personally like the chocolatey ones. 

Sometimes, I really miss the corner slices of a rose covered butter creamed grocery store cakes. Publix makes the best! I also miss going out for birthday dinners and taking it easy for the day.

Tell me, what are birthday's like for you? Oh and remind me sometime to tell you about birthday bathroom calendars! 

Until next time!

Snail Mail Collective

Getting mail is amazing! There is nothing better than someone sending you a care package or a letter, perhaps most especially when you are an expat. Which is why when I read about the beginning of the snail mail collective, on a blog I had been admiring from a far for a few months, I jumped at a chance to participate. The collective was started last month by Melyssa of The Nectar Collective and Chelsea of Lost in Travels, go forth and check out their blogs. The goal of the collective is to connect people from all over the world and to encourage new, motivating friendships and cultural understanding. You get a partner, and you spend two weeks getting to know them and then you send them a present in the mail. 

I was so honored when Melyssa picked me to be her partner for the first one. I had such an amazing time getting to know her this month! I got her gifts the other day, and they are so cute, I can't wait to start using them. She sent me so much cool stuff I have no idea how she stuck to the 5.00 budget. I have to admit, I wasn't the best partner, I sent my stuff a bit late because I couldn't figure out where to send mail from since all the mail shops closed. The answer is bookstores, because that makes sense! 

I loved participating in this sooo much that I have already signed up for the next month. You can sign up too until the 7th of each month. Go forth and make some new friends!

This is what my package arrived in, really cute right? 

 

Dank je Melyssa! So tell me, do you miss getting snail mail? What is the best thing you ever received? 

Until next time,

2 Years and Counting

Two years ago today was the most nerve racking day of my life. The boy I had been talking to online on and off for nearly four years was finally flying in from the Netherlands and we would get to be face to face for the first time. As nervous as I was, it probably was nothing compared to what Loek was feeling flying all the way across the Atlantic. 

The plan was simple, I would meet him at the top of the arrivals gate at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. Unlike many airports, the Atlanta airport has two terminals but everyone comes up the same way to collect their bags  and met the people who are waiting for them. Everyone that is except Loek. Somehow, and I still don't know to this day how he possibly accomplished this, but Loek came up an entirely different way. We completely missed each other, and of course my phone was on silent. It was about 30 minutes before I looked at my phone, I thought perhaps there was just a very long line in customs. I had 7 missed calls. Poor Loek, had already got his luggage and in his first time to the US, I wasn't where I said I would be. He thought that perhaps I had decided that I didn't want to meet him after all. 

Of course, this was not the case and finally we found each other. The rest is history, four months later we got engaged and 6 months after that I moved to the Netherlands. Perhaps, not the most ordinary of love stories, but it is ours and we like it. 

27 Things Before I'm 27 Challenge!

Today, I am officially on the other side of my 20's. Yep, it is my 26th Birthday! Also known as, the first birthday I will celebrate whilst living in The Netherlands! I think we are going to keep things pretty low-key over here, But since it is now tradition, here are the 27 Things I want to accomplish by this day next year.

  1. Get Top Marks this year in my HBO Program. Instead of being letter grades, Dutch Students get  their grades out of 10's. So this year I want 9 and 10's. Apparently no one gets 10's...
  2. Pass the Staatsexamen or NT2, with this I will get a diploma stating that Nederlands is my official second language!
  3. Read more classics! I am trying hard until 2013 to meet my 100 Books in 2012 Good Reads Challenge, but a lot of Classics have had to be bypassed because they take me a bit longer to get through. What is your favorite?
  4. Try 3 New Sports. Yep, I have been Olympically inspired. I am thinking Running, Rowing, and Archery.
  5. Learn to love my bike. I'm not afraid of it anymore, but it is still not my favorite method of transport.
  6. Leave The Netherlands this year. Not for permanent or anything, I just haven't been outside of  The Netherlands since I moved here, and there is so much of this world to explore.
  7. Go to more Festivals. Maybe this year will be the return of my festival/ concert going days!
  8. Work Hard. With going to my degree classes fulltime, my dutch classes part time, my job part time, and wanting to start a more vigorous exercise program. My new motto is going to have to be Work Hard to Play Hard.
  9. Run in a race this year. Or several. I have my eye on the Den Haag Half Marathon in March.
  10. Write a novel. I plan on participating in November's National Novel Writing Month Challenge.
  11. Be more socialable. I have friends, but sometimes I am too much of a hermit, and I get really intimidated in large groups of other women.
  12. Stop Comparing my Life to Others. As FDR is quoted to say, Comparison is the Thief of Joy. And besides, my life is pretty incredible all on its own.
  13. Do more art. This used to be my life's greatest passion, I need to get back into it.
  14. Learn to Meditate. Quieting my mind is not something I am good at.
  15. Practice my cartwheels. It  is ridiculous that I can no longer do one.
  16. Furnish the Kitchen. I have dreams of a crockpot and immersion blender.
  17. Learn to sew.
  18. Join more clubs. Really, I should put attend more club meetings also.
  19. Be more organized.
  20. Make meal plans. I think this will help me eat better.
  21. Spend more time in the Southern and Eastern parts of The Netherlands. I haven't gone exploring there yet.
  22. Become a morning person. If you sleep all day, you can't get as much done as you would like.
  23. Continue to grow my blog.
  24. Continue to save for retirement.
  25. Eat more veggies!
  26. Keep better in touch with friends and family in The States.
  27. Do what I say I am going to do and honor my commitments. 

What do you hope to do before your next birthday?

 

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How I Fared in My 26 Things Before I'm 26 Challenge!

It is a week until my 26th Birthday! Happy Birthday Alice! Since there is only a week to go before I am 26, I wanted to revisit my list of 26 Things Before I´m 26. I didn´t do as well, but to be fair, when you move to another country, all your plans go topsy/turvy. Hopefully, now that I know what life is like here, I can make a better list next week for 27 Things Before I´m 27.

 

1. Move to Utrecht.   Done and Done!

2. Be able to communicate in Dutch. I´m so much better than a year ago, but I am far from fluent.

3. Get married, I'm engaged so this isn't a huge jump. I feel married, does that count?

4. Take up ballet again. I finally have a job, maybe I can look into this. 

5. Find a core group of friends in my new country.  I am happy to say I have friends, and I am meeting new people all the time!

6. Develop a sense of personal style and dress accordingly.Maybe when I lose weight I will buy some new clothes!

7. Learn to bake and cook in my Nederlands kitchen  I cook almost everyday.

8. Start my tour guide business. I decided to go to Uni for first!

9. Learn to sew. Curtains count right? 

10. Go to Paris. (I went when I was 11, but the Louvre was on strike the whole time) Maybe this year...

11. Write letters to my friends back home. Christmas cards.

12. Get back to the weight that feels best on my frame. Not yet, but I have been re-inspired by the Olympics!

13. Read 100 new books, including some classics. Probably should have added some more classics, but I did alright. 

14. Start making metal jewelry again. I've made some designs.

15. Book my honeymoon, we probably wont go right after the wedding. Not relevant until we get married.

16. Learn how to share, I was practically an only child.  I've been a lot less selfish this year.

17. Become an expert bike rider. Still working on it.

18. Attend Amsterdam Fashion Week. Maybe this year?

19. Knit a sweater. I made half a scarf. 

20. Learn the art of light layers.

21. Eat better, I have a horrible diet.

22. Start bringing in money again.  Yay, new job!

23. Continue adding to the retirement fund. Yay, new job!

24. Laugh more.

25. Get over my fear of boats.

26. Stick to my plans.

Look for my new list on the 14th! 

Rooting for Two Teams Equally?

It has been Olympic Central at the house ever since 10pm on Friday night. The Netherlands are an hour ahead of London time, so I got to watch it live. It actually was just ending when it started playing prime time in Atlanta. This year, watching the Olympics is totally different for me. Not only because I am not rooting for two teams, but also because I actually miss NBC's coverage of the Olympics. 

Right now, our cable has the Olympics on four different channels. Two Dutch and two BBC, while I am enjoying switching in between the two different countries channels, The BBC mostly shows the events that Team Great Britain are competing in and the Dutch are showing the events that are interesting to Nederlanders. It makes sense, but I miss hearing the stories of my native American athletes. Also, these are the first summer Olympics since my own hometown's hosting in 1996 that I have been in a time zone to watch all the events live, maybe this is the reason that I feel like there is not as much information on the screen during the events about the times, etc. 

People have been asking me who it is I am rooting for this time. Am I rooting for the USA more because I am an American, or The Netherlands because this is where I plan to take up permanent residence? I'm not sure why I would have to choose, so here is my answer. I cheer for both equally. I just want my two teams to win as many medals as possible. 

I will say though, when it comes to being stylish at the Opening Ceremony, Nederland has you beat America.

Who are you going for? What is your favorite Summer Olympics Event?

 

Anne's Amsterdam

I was approached to write this review by The Anne Frank House. At this time, I do not accept money for reviews or anything of that nature on this blog. However, they thought I would be interested in their new app after reading my blog, and I am, especially since I am about to study tourism, I decided to tryout the app for myself. 

Anne's Amsterdam is a new smartphone app made in conjunction with the Anne Frank House.  The App is available in English, Dutch, and German. I have it on my iPhone. The App allows you to explore Anne Frank's life in the city before her family was forced into hiding. The way the app works is simple, it uses your location and shows you different monuments in town that were important to Anne's life. For example, you can see where Anne went to school, where her and Margot used to go skating, and other significant details of a young girls life. 

Visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is an incredibly humbling experience. I was required to read the Diary of Anne Frank when I was in High School. Visiting her house combined with seeing her life outside in the city really gives you even more of a sense as to how terrible things really were during the German Occupation. 

Whether you are an expat, a Nederlander, or a tourist to The Netherlands, I recommend that you download this free app. It is very well done, and you never know what you will discover in an unsuspecting corner of Amsterdam. 

 

11 Things I Love About My New Home After 9 Months

I landed nine months ago. Nine months! That is long enough to have carried and given birth to a baby. Not that I'm pregnant or even thinking about having a baby for years, I mean I'm about to be in school for the next 4 years, but to give you an idea of the time I've been here, I chose that analogy. This post could not have come at a better time, I feel like I haven't really been present or sociable the last few weeks. I always do this, I have a lot to look forward to in August and July, so I forget to live in the present. I'm sorry, my friends, I am going to try to do better. But in the meantime, here are the 11 things I love about The Netherlands after 9 months!

1. I love how international it actually is here. Since I have been here, I have met so many people with so many different backgrounds. Where I grew up in The States, there were people from different backgrounds, but most of them are 3rd and 4th generation. It is really awesome to meet so many people who come from all over world. It is important to note that this isn't the case all over the country, mostly just in the larger cities to the west. 

2. I can actually stomach the milk. For those of you who know me well, you know how disgusting I find milk. I actually inherited this from my mother, even though she would think it in front of me when I was little because she thought it was important that I get the calcium I needed. It was years before I would even eat ice cream. While there is no way I would ever reach for milk as a beverage, the milk here does taste differently and I can stand to have it in my cereal and will even chug it when I have heartburn. I know, crazy talk!

3. Even though the weather in the summer is unpredictable and I haven't yet put away my jacket, I'm the tannest I have ever been. Okay, so this is probably only a Kaitlin thing. I have extremely sensitive skin, it burns extremely fast. Because of this, I tend to be an inside girl. Seriously, Nicole Kidman is my beauty icon. But, because the sun is less extreme here than in Georgia, I am definitely outside more. I'm probably three shades darker than normal.

4. Even though I complained the whole time, I know feel more at ease in communicating in Nederlands after inburgering. My last inburgering class for a month and a half, was a week ago. Even though I still don't really like the system, I do recognize that I am much more willing to try and communicate in Nederlands than I was before my classes started. I am also continuing my learning alone, because I have to switch into the evening class.

5. I'm totally obsessed with the baby birds. If you read the blog regularly you know this already, but seriously, they are so cute. Oh and the bunnies! I see wild bunnies at least once a week.

6. I'm becoming more thrifty. Going out is more expensive here, clothes are more expensive, pretty much everything but booze is more expensive here. I actually think this is a good thing, as it is ridding me of the disposable lifestyle many Americans have. Now when something breaks, I do the Dutch thing and see if I can fix it. Except for those shoes from a few posts ago, those things are toast!

7. It rains all the time. I know again this is probably a personal thing, but in coming from a place that is perpetually in a drought, the fact that I am frequently caught in afternoon is actually a great thing. 

8. The view on marriage here. The Netherlands was the first country to legalize same sex marriage. This makes me incredibly proud of my newly adopted country. In order to stay with The Verlo-, I actually don't ever have to get married. To be clear, we are engaged, but there is not the societal pressure or contingency of my visa to walk down the aisle. 

9. I love the countryside. I am a big city girl, but I do love that just a little bit outside the major cities the country is ripe with cows, goats, sheep, and horses. Seriously look out the window next time you are on an Intercity.

10. I can't believe I have not mentioned this one before, but I love the bikes. I'm still amazed by all that people can do while on their bikes. I doubt that I will ever reach the level of mastery required to talk on the phone, or transport a tv on my handlebars while cycling, but it is nice to have a goal.

11. I feel really safe here. I'm not naive enough to believe that there is no crime here, however, it is night and day between sketch parts of The Netherlands and sketch parts of The States.

Want a recap of the other things I love here? Check out:

What do you love about where you live?

 

When Your Friends Leave, Reality in Expat Friendships.

Looking at the friends I have made so far in The Netherlands, most of them are fellow Americans. This was never my intention, but it makes sense, my only passable language at the moment is English, and we are all going through a lot of the same things. However, having your main friend group tied to another country besides the one you are planning to live in long term presents its a whole new set of problems. Being an expat for many is a very transient period, it is something they are trying on and eventually, most will probably move on. Either back to their home country or the will move elsewhere abroad. 

A few weeks ago, I had my first of what I am sure is many goodbyes to a friend who moved back to The States. To be fair, when I met her she told me that her and her husband were not looking to stay here long term. Neither of us expected her to leave as soon as she did. I am very thankful for the warning because I feel like I knew going in that the living in the same country part of our friendship had an expiration date. Not our friendship itself, just the both living in Utrecht part. I miss you Amanda!

Knowing that your friends might leave is just part of the living life abroad. Sure it is painful, but does that mean that you shouldn't make friends with anyone? My advice is to cherish the relationships you are able to make at any point in your life. If a friend does end up leaving, do your best to keep in touch, and look forward to the places you will now get to go visit. Speaking of keeping in touch, I owe some people some skype dates. Let's make them happen people!

Have you had friends leave? How did you deal with it?

This Week In Instagram Vol.6

Welcome to the first This Week in Instagram of June! I traveled a lot this week. I might as well get used to it, come September, I'll be going to Amsterdam for school at least four days a week! I continued one tutoring job and started another. I also attended a Trial Study Day for my Tourism Program and it got me even more pumped to be back in school! Here is how my week looked in pictures! 

Light is so different here than in Georgia! This is the beginnings of a sunset, at 10:22pm! Don't worry, it starts coming up again around 6am!

There is a street in Utrecht where the lamp posts all have sayings or ads. This is my favorite, it says "Evening Time is Reading Time". I wholeheartedly agree. 

One of the families I tutor live in the most beautiful countryside. I get to see all kinds of animals I miss by living in the burb's. This week, I was greeted by close encounters of the swan kind. 

Just a little but closer.

Then I came upon these cuties. 

Last week, I took a photo on some unknown flower. I found out that these are actually poppies! They are everywhere this week!

Some more poppies!

Next week, I finally have my orientation at my Inburgering School. Look for that post Monday afternoon!

What did your week look like? I would love to hear! 

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