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living in the netherlands

Fluidity of Goals as an Expat

To do list

Preceding a big move, chances are you are going to have certain expectations about what life will be like in your new home. These are important to have because they allow you to start forming goals about your new life. After you land, you will probably find that some of your ideas of how life would go are just not plausible in your new place or, they are going to require a lot more effort than you originally thought. I am of a firm belief that goals and dreams should be fluid as different circumstances change. You can probably surmise that after living here for half a year, I have very different goals and expectations for my new life here than before I moved. Below I am going to illustrate some old goals and how they have now changed, since I am actually living here. 

 

Career: I had this idea that since I worked in a growing field in The States, I would have no problem translating that into a job here. Well, six months later and I haven't had so much as an interview. This is for a variety of reasons: I don't speak Dutch, and even though I have work experience that is solid for a 25 year old, I didn't finish University and that is a huge deal here. ( I mean, tuition is less than 2,000 Euros a year, and students get grants as long as they are under 30, so everyone holds a degree of some kind). A funny thing happened though after being unemployed and receiving several not nice rejection letters, I realized how much I don't want to work in the field I was in for the long term. So instead of wallowing on my limited career prospects, I am taking advantage of this life changing time and I am currently looking into my Higher Education options here, which is why I haven't written a post in a week. More on this later. 

Dutch: I have written before about how my old job told me that they couldn't keep me a week before I moved here. Because of this, I am of course not in the financial situation I had imagined. The good news is that I might get to freelance for them, so hopefully this will improve slightly. But, before I was planning on being able to pay for Dutch lessons. I was going to take a super expensive and intensive Dutch class at the University here so I could get a head start. This hasn't worked out, but I am currently waiting on the results of my Inburgering Placement Exam, so hopefully I will begin classes soon! 

Fitness:  I thought that sans car, the pounds would fly off of me. This was partially true, I have lost two pants sizes! But I also thought I would pick up bike riding again with ease. This was not the case, I found that I was quite uncomfortable on the old spare bike that we had, and I am the Queen of freaking myself out! The seat has since been lowered and after being pushed to ride in Amsterdam by my dear friend, I am now much more comfortable on my own bike. Although, I am still really slow. This week, I kept thinking that I would go for a long walk, but the weather has not been cooperating. I have given myself a firm goal of health and a deadline, as opposed to leaving it open ended and I have a support system. 

Apartment: It is going to take some time to get it perfect. It feels like home, but it isn't gezellig yet. We need some art! And pictures of friends! Oh and we should probably do something about the cursed wall that is now terrible looking. 

Friends: This is actually going better than expected, I have had an explosion in this category and couldn't be happier! 

The Verlo-: Honestly, they don't come better than what I got. 

 

The point is, being an expat is really hard. If you hold on to your preconceived notions about what life is going to be like, you miss out on the good stuff it actually has to offer! You should always be in flux, because life is anything but constant. That's my little piece of advice to those who venture out into the unknown.

What goals of yours have you changed?

 

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I Have Confidence that Spring will Come Again.

Sometimes, I dream of being Fraulein Maria. Well, maybe I should clarify, I do not dream of being an ex-nun in Nazi Occupied Austria, who goes to work for some horrible children as a governess, only to eventually win them and their father over, then to have to literally sing for my life to escape said Nazis. A more accurate description would be that I dream of being Julie Andrews, singing on top a of mountaintop in a floral dress, arms outspread, face towards the sun, spinning and singing about the hills being alive with the sound of music. This dream occurs with much great frequency since I have moved to The Netherlands.

You see, there are no mountains in The Netherlands. There is not even a proper hill in my opinion. Being mostly below sea level, I live in one of the flattest places on Earth. This is part of what allows bicycles to be so popular here. I’m not complaining mind you, but growing up in the Piedmont of Georgia, I am used to being able to see Stone Mountain as I am driving down the highway and full on mountains if I were to drive an hour North. All this flatness takes some serious getting used to. “ I want to see mountains again, Gandalf – mountains” is an expression I find my head saying on a daily basis. What? A Sound of Music and A LOTR reference in one post? What am I a Gilmore Girl?

So, what does this tangent have to do with anything? Well, because I dream of mountains, I often get the songs of The Sound of Music stuck in my head and since before today this week had been terrible I have been singing “I Have Confidence in Me”. This is really is the perfect song for a nervous expat. It is all about making the best of this amazing opportunity you have in life.  But this week the verse that has been sticking with me is:
 

I have confidence in sunshine.
I have confidence in rain.
I have confidence that Spring will come again.

And today it it was such a beautiful day, that I do have confidence that Spring is on its way here. I can’t wait!

*Disclaimer, apparently there are some mountains in the South, but I have never seen them

 

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March Photo Challenge: Day 4: Bedside

Today's challenge is bedside, We don't have a bedside table, but we do have the coolest headboard with built-in shelves. This is what lies on top. It is my jewelry box, the book I am currently reading, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, the book Loek is currently reading, the Dutch version of The Diary of Anne Frank (the language it was written in), and my kindle.
The jewelry box is one of my most prized possessions. You might recall from my post about the Utrecht Soepbus, that I haven't seen or heard from my father in many years. This jewelry box is one of the two things I have that he gave to my mother.
 

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March Photo Challenge: Day 3: My Neighborhood!

Leidsche Rijn

As I have said before, Loek and I live in a little suburb outside of the City Center of Utrecht called Leidsche Rijn. A relatively new neighborhood, it is nevertheless ripe with history and artifacts. Leidsche Rijn itself has at least three distinctive neighborhoods, and where Loek and I live is right in the middle. For this challenge, I chose to use a neighborhood of Leidsche Rijn called Parkwijk. Mostly because it is my favorite!  

De Grauwaert:

De Grauwaert, Leidsche Rijn

De Grauwaert, Leidsche Rijn

 

The Netherlands loves its parks and Leidsche Rijn is no different. Off the top of my head, I can think of six parks or playgrounds that are within a eight minute walk from my apartment. Above is De Grauwaert, one of the coolest parks near my home.

Translated, the sign roughly says: In Leidsche Rijn lies a large amount of archeological monuments protected by law. One of those is Park Grauwaert where lies the remains of a small castle-island and a front terrain surrounded by canals.

The Grauwaert must have been special in the late middle ages, from how the complex was shown on old maps. On the map of Specht from 1696 you can see that the castle was in a corner of the Old Rijn. When the buildings were demolished is unknown, but the castle doesn't appear on maps from after 1800.
 
The results from both archeological research and the information of historical maps have inspired the designers of Park Grauwaert. In the design all the characteristic elements of the Grauwaert are found back: the island, the Old Rijn, and the surrounded by channels front terrain. 
 
You might remember from a previous post, this is why I am convinced our apartment is haunted
 
This is also part of the Grauwaert. I have seen more of these scattered throughout the countryside here. I really need to look up more about them! The building on the right is my local branch of the library!
 
swan, leidsche rijn
Today, I got to see this guy fly over my apartment to this park. It was a beautiful sight, but he made me sad because he was all alone! Swans are everywhere here and they still haven't lost their majestic loveliness to me. 
 
Leidsche Rijn College
 
This is Leidsche Rijn College, think high school if you are American. I included it in my neighborhood tour because its students are everywhere, all the time. I call them the delinquents because when school ends, they wont let you get off the bus. They swarm at all exits trying to sneak on. It is the only time most weeks where I want to yell at a Dutch person. 
 
The road to the City Center. You have to go past the concert hall and over the yellow bridge. 
 
The streets here all have theme names. Every street connected to the main road have spice/ herb names, another main street has all its connecting streets named after butterflies. It is a pretty cool little tie in. Can you guess what this street name translates too? 
 
Thanks for allowing me to show you a little bit about my new neighborhood. What do you like most about the neighborhood you call home? Remember, it is not too late to join March Photo Challenge from Fat Mum Slim
 
 
 

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March Photo Challenge: Day 2: Fruit!

Today's topic was almost enough to derail my efforts on the second day of the challenge! You see, I am not a fruit person. I much prefer vegetables and I am more of a savory person then a sweet one. If I do eat a fruit, it has to be something relatively exotic for me to enjoy it. I'm not sure if it is the taste of things like mangoes, star fruit, and dragon fruit that I like or that it is not run of the mill. I may need to examine this further. Anyways, here are some mangoes, taken at my local supermarket. Yes, we have grocery stores here in The Netherlands. 

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Yoda's Advice for Learning a Language.

A very wise, little green alien once said to a pupal learning an important lesson, “Do or do not, there is no try”. A valuable lesson for all, but especially for those trying to learn a new language. You have to work at it, otherwise you will never really become fluent.

So often, I find myself telling people that I am trying to learn to speak Nederlands. What I really mean by this is that, I study when I want to. I study when it is convenient for me, but I don’t devote near enough time to it as I should. Needless to say, I haven’t learned an impressive amount in the almost 5 months I have been here. According to an interview by Suitcase Entrepreneur of Benny from Fluent in 3 Months, most people have trouble learning a language because they are lazy about it. I can definitely see his point. I have been lazy, and my progress has suffered.

So how do I, and other language learners remedy this situation? Here are some of my ideas to get on track with language learning.

  • Have a clear, realistic goal in mind. My current goal is to finish the Rosetta Stone by June 1st, which means I need to do a lesson a day. About 2 ½ hours.
  • Have an hour reserved each day to devote to hearing/ speaking nothing but Dutch to my fiancee.
  • Spend an hour each day on grammar workbooks.
  • Have a defined daily schedule, keeping in mind the times that I know I am most productive. For me that is from 10am to 12:30 and again at 4:30.
  • Watch more Dutch films, people quote movies all the time, I might as well be quoting Dutch ones.
  • Have an accountability partner, someone who you won’t lie to that can hold you accountable for learning.
  • Treat my language learning like a job. I was always much better about showing up to work than I was to class. Since I don’t work, I will now treat learning Nederlands as my current career.

In case anyone was wondering, I did Level One, Unit Two, Lesson Two this morning.

Any language learners out there want to share their suggestion or tips for learning a new language?

 

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Photo Dinsdag: Knit-bombed Leiden

Leiden is one of my favorite cities here in The Netherlands. It is full of history, and I will feature it in a City Guide soon. Since today is my first Photo Dinsdag, I decided that my first entry should be the lovely knit bombed Leiden. Knit bombing has been popping up in cities around the globe for a few years now, and this is how it is done, Dutch Style!

 

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Volunteering Abroad: Soepbus Utrecht

"The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer somebody else up." Mark Twain

One thing you can never prepare yourself for as an expat is how lonely it can be. With no job, your significant other at work, and all your friends being an ocean away, you can feel pretty helpless and lonely. Which is why finding something to do with your time can be invaluable. This is why I decided to get involved and spend some time volunteering for some local organizations in my new home.

With this in mind, I signed up for Utrecht Cares, it is an organization that matches volunteers with projects. Basically, you check their calendar and sign yourself up for what you want to do. I was a little nervous at first, as I speak very limited Dutch. But, I found a project I was interested in and one of the coordinators at Utrecht Cares was kind enough to ask the organizers if it would be okay if I came, although I can’t speak in Dutch. They said I was welcome to come. So, with that, I volunteered to work with Soepbus Utrecht.

Soepbus Utrecht is really a labor of love for Wan-Ho and his wife Yuen. They started this project completely on their own and have been feeding the homeless of my fair city since December. The Soepbus is actually their car and you can find them almost every week day, from 7pm to 9pm distributing soup, sandwiches, coffee, and tea to those who need it. While the project is still small, (it takes a long time to build trust in the homeless community) it is rapidly growing.

When I first arrived, I was greeted by Wan-Ho and Yuen and they then explained to me about the organization and what inspired them to get started. They saw a need and worked hard to make it happen. There are a lot of hoops they had to jump through, but they did and now the organization is running on about 50% donations. Which is huge for a start-up charity organization.

I was unsure in what I would find in the people who come to Soepbus for help. I was nervous that because of my lack of language skills,I would not be able to do any good. I was wrong in that everyone was able to speak English, even those who could not speak Dutch as good. Everyone was really nice and you could definitely feel the sense of Community the Soepbus Utrecht has created. People are often in need for a variety of different reasons, but it is hardly ever because they are lazy. The people who came: some of them have jobs and plans for the future, some of them aren’t quite there yet. You see, life happens to everyone and it deals us all different cards. With people like the Groenstein’s in the world, I am not so worried for humanity anymore.

I choose Soepbus Utrecht for a very specific reason. The last time I saw my biological father, I was 12 years old. He had always had some mental problems, and I guess one day it just got to much for him and he disappeared. I think he, was too ashamed to ask for help. I worry about him every single day and I can only hope that there are people where he is who are willing to help.

While at first I was nervous about my ability to help out, every time I volunteer, I know I am doing good and I hope that I can inspire some of my readers to go out and do good in their own communities. It will make you feel great, I promise.
What are some of the ways you are volunteering in your Community? I would love to hear about them!
Image from Soepbus Utrecht

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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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